recommended reading: heart of iron

Heart of Iron, by Ekaterina Sedia.

I should preface this by saying I’m only thirty pages along, with nearly three hundred to go; at the same time I’ve so far been impressed.

Beautiful, beautiful writing and turn of phrase. It’s set in an alternate history steampunk setting, and the world building is impressive. More than that, though, there is a subtle delicacy to Sedia’s representation of politics and society that really hits home. She could still disappoint me later, but I’m hopeful.



… Why are the writers with the best prose so often also the writers with the worst plot? Pacing, Ms. Sedia, pacing! And stop making all your minor characters secretly bright intellectuals, pretty please?

row80 – april update

Daily writing output

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So, my writing really suffered when my computer died mid-month. Bad Eliza. No cookie. But as I’ve been writing one thousand words a day or so since Norwescon, maybe that can make up for it?

In other news, I’ve finally gotten back the reins on my plot, I’ve broken 100k words (which means it’s much too long, but we’ll cut that down later), and I can see my planned climax coming over my metaphorical hill.

Huzzah! Victory!

Anyone interested in beta-reading a rough-draft YA Steampunk Fantasy? The end is in sight.

the artificer’s angels– chapter fourteen sample

A short sample I thought amusing enough to share. The composition is a bit awkward, but despite its flaws, it still makes me laugh.

Mister Abraham Gennyson sent several letters.

One letter he sent to Mister Pennyrose in Height’s Falls, a rather rich city that two old artificers had retired in (while they still had the chance).

The first of these was Master Artificer Albert Sickle. Mister Sickle was more metal than flesh after being blown apart, melted in acid, gnawed on by his pet goat-wolf, and finally subjected to his own granddaughter’s attempts at poetry. Her mother– his daughter– had watched him with a shark’s smile that forbid him from giving anything but the highest praise.

Despite all this, Mister Sickle had taken less damage than his retired counterpart, who had to cart pieces of his own anatomy behind him in attractive-yet-cumbersome glass jars. His name was Mister Eustace Violet, and though he and Mister Sickle had long been the greatest of enemies, their rivalry had simmered down over the years to grandiose monologues over a weekly chess match, all under the stern gazes of Mister Sickle’s daughter and Mister Violet’s nurse.

Unbeknownst to the other, Mister Violet also had an ambitious scheme to seize control over the surrounding thousand miles, pinning blame on Mister Sickle in the process, and setting all who opposed him on fire, but that is another story entirely and shall be told on another occasion. Mister Gennyson’s letter to Mister Pennyrose, who was only a banker, may have been the catalyst that doomed the region, but it did not help Mister Gennyson find his nephew, and so is of little consequence to this story.

(soon to be) looking to commission artists

I’ve had a crazy idea for a bit now, to hire commissions from a bunch of different artists for some characters for a young adult steampunk adventure novel I’m writing. (Yes, it’s The Artificer’s Angels.)

Here are the details.

  • There are seven major characters in all– five men, two women. They range from the ages of fifteen-ish to mid-fifties. Here’s a quick preview of the lot.
    • The farm girl. Merrily Soarin is cheerful, upright, and has a mean left hook. She’s nineteen years old, black, and her nappy hair’s getting clumpy.
    • The engineer. Paul Soarin is serious, often uncomfortable, and desperate to prove himself to the upper circles. He’s thirty-two, Merrily’s brother, also black, head nearly shaved, thin. He also becomes a bit wild by the end of the book.
    • The hacker. Polly Owens was a promising inventor before she was kicked out of the university. Now she smokes a lot of opium, she wears shocking clothes, gears and tools sewn to her skirts (in case she ever needs one), and does mechanical under-the-table deals. Mid-twenties, brown eyes, straight brown hair, and she dresses in ways specifically designed to make her victorian-esc neighbors uncomfortable (classic steampunk).
    • The mad scientist. Maxwell Gallows is in his mid-fifties, wears lots of black, and would probably have taken over the world had he cared for anything in it. He’s stick-thin, gaunt in the face, and his black hair stands out. Usually accompanied by a black hat and a heavy cane.
    • The boy. Leo Gallows is sweet, gentle, desperately shy, and part machine, though the only real indicator of this on the outside are his glowing, artificial teal eyes. His hair is platinum blond, but it’s the style to dye hair wild colors and saturate it with gel, and his ends are blue-green and stand up in spikes. Every so often, though, he does show signs of his father’s inventor-traits running through him.
    • The intellectual thief. Abraham Gennyson has the nasty habit of stealing invention ideas that don’t belong to him. Getting near sixty– he’s not horribly fat, but he has a gut, his hair is long and brown and silver, he wears nice clothes and looks the part of the overweight Victorian business man.
    • The trickster. Uriel is also a reworked dead man, and he very much intends to keep his life and his freedom, both of which are at risk. He will kill, steal, lie, and con his way out of his bad situation– anything to get himself free. And he’s pretty good at it. Six-five (two full meters) tall, broad shouldered, strong featured, tan, with artificial red eyes and a wild red-and-black haircut. He appears to be in his late-twenties.
  • I would write a more detailed description of each character, then two or three scenes with them in it, to give a better idea of what they’re like. I’ll also write a bit about the novel.
  • The commissions would go to a variety of artists– one character per commission. I’d love to see a range of skills, styles, and takes.
  • When I have a good collection of characters by a variety of people, I’ll make a collage for each character.

That’s the preliminary details. Anyone interested, and if so, in anyone in particular? And does anyone want to point to artists seeking commissions?

one thing to another

So, how is NaNo going for everyone?

I’m behind– probably as far behind as I’ve ever been at 14k/18.3k par– but I’m also taking some time off of work to rest and not get sick. I’m hoping that I can catch up.

Also, while I love this book, sometimes it takes me to very strange places. Has this ever happened to anyone?

My paladin and my amateur inventor (both young ladies) need to get to a city down south. They took a train, so I began my scene in the train. To show them heading off.

The weapon that they brought wasn’t hidden well enough. It was confiscated. The paladin worried for the train worker’s safety, as that weapon is dangerous in a wholly unusual way (an electric spear). She decided that they needed to break into the luggage car and reclaim it. So now I’m not writing a travel scene. It’s now a steampunk train robbery.

Then the attendant who’d taken the spear in the first place showed up with a buddy in the back and started going through the passengers’ bags, looking for things to take. I hear so many stories of people losing things on airlines that I have it in my head that everyone in the luggage rooms must be a thief. The sliding luggage with the momentum of the train pressed against the paladin’s injury, she got caught by the fellow who lingered… he had a pistol…

Long story short, she has a pair of thieves to turn in, an embalmed body she found stuffed into a trunk (being smuggled to the remote country), and all they really want is that spear.

How on earth did I get here?

I love it when the middle writes itself, but… I’m bewildered.

a little bit victorian

I received this morning a thoughtful critique on the prologue of ‘The Artificer’s Angels’, my steampunk novel. The gentleman in question had several good things to point out: a contradictory description, some wayward sentences breaking the flow, and imagery problems, all of which I was very grateful for.

But at the end he wrote this:

I also wonder if you are trying to emulate Victorian-style prose. If so, I think you might want to reconsider. The reason is that Victorian prose is really difficult for modern Americans to slog through, unless they are reading a book that was actually written in the Victorian era – then they recognize that they have no choice. The only other time I believe American readers would tolerate flowery prose and long, long sentences is if the writer were depicting the action from the first-person POV of a Victorian.

Now, I understand that this is an opinion, and should be weighed like all critiques. But it’s also a projectory opinion. “Other people won’t like it”, and that bothers me, especially since he said nothing at all whether he thought it distracting.

I’m not even a particularly flowery writer.

Ironically, a few minutes later I read a blog post by Mister Dave Kellet, writer and artist of the Sheldon webcomic. It included this:

One of my favorite things that Victorian writers figured out was how the inclusion of scraps of letters, telegraphs, and diary entries within their larger novels could help enhance a story and fill out a world.

Call me crazy, but I wonder if I would rather err on the side of more Victorian. Unrelated short steampunk stories between parts of the novel. Nano-fiction sprinkled here and there, to go with my pen-and-ink illustrations, my omniscient camera, and my insistence on spelling out titles like ‘Mister’. I’d not considered adding more material to flesh out the setting prior, but now I find the thought exciting.

Am I just being contrary? How does that sound, slogging modern American readers?

nano snippet

I wrote about two thousand words tonight, and finished up with this. (Edit: also note, it was 3am and I was sleep deprived).

This is how I think a real paladin would act.

That evening, after the rest had gone to bed, Merrily approached her mama on the sofa and took her warm, wrinkled hand. Gertrude squeezed her, and without opening her eyes said, “What’s wrong, baby girl?”

“Am I doing right, mama?” Merrily asked. “I… I feel silly, but I don’t know. No one seems to be really bad here. I mean, yes, they’ve done some wicked things, but no one’s been hurt. Mister Gennyson tried to put Leo back together, even if he was a grave robber. Uriel wants to take off the law that’ll kill him, Mister Gallows loves his son.

“The vows talk about putting the wicked and the strong to flight, defending the helpless… but I don’t see anyone like that here. I feel like I don’t know what to do. Everyone has reasons. Lots of people, all being reasonable…”

Gertrude squeezed Merrily’s hand again. “Do you think evil things are never done with reasons? Good reasons, good intentions, wonderful goals in sight?”

Merrily thought about that, and she shook her head slowly.

“The evil you fight is not the people. I told Diane we’re all bad people, and I meant it. You start thinking that you’re good and they’re bad, and you’ll be in for a world of trouble, baby. The difference between hero and villain isn’t always in what they want. And if you pay real close attention, you might just see that the bad fellows are the ones that need the most saving.

“Now you come right over here.” Gertrude kissed Merrily’s cheek when she bent down. “You listen to your mama. You were meant to be who you are, little Gamble. Made to be who you are. You keep this boy safe like you promised, and you don’t compromise. Someone’s got to hold the world in check.”

The corners of Merrily’s mouth tugged, then drew into a smile. “Thank you, mama,” she whispered.

“Silly girl. Now, it’s late. What you doing up so late anyhow? Scoot! Bedtime.”

Merrily kissed her once more, bid her a good night, and held her skirts as she took the stairs and tried to keep them from squeaking too loudly on the way to her bedroom above the front porch.

in which i attain an illustrator

That was easy.

Have I ever mentioned that my mother is a professional artist?

I mentioned that I wanted Victorian-style pen and ink illustrations for my novel to my mother; she mostly does a lot of still life and landscape. She got very excited when I described the sort of things I wanted– cloth bows, still life with wine, a top hat and gloves, birds’ nests between the junction of steel beams. She’s not a fantasy fan, but then, I’m not much interested in fantasy illustrations.

(Though the giant mechanical crab might be nice.)

the villain who took over my plot

Imagine, if you will, a party of heroes trapped with Whirling Blades of Doom! ™ coming down on them slowly from above. Stone sides, no secret doors, no weapons or ‘I forgot I had these’ moments.

Suddenly, the door is kicked open! Maxwell has arrived!

Maxwell grabs his son, turns, and slams the door on the rest of the heroes’ faces, leaving them to their fate. Hey he never said he’d save them, after all.

This isn’t something that happened in my story. Yet, this is somewhat typical of Maxwell’s behavior. The greatest jerk you’d ever meet– an animated man in his late forties, armed with his black clothes, top hat and cane. A mad scientist in every way.

Since making his appearance on camera, he’s enslaved a dead man, drove through the countryside in a giant mechanical crab (terrifying more than a few farmers in the process), left my heroine to die, broken into a water factory, pulled his gun on more than a few people… only stopped short of killing because of the nice people he had to team up with.

He was supposed to be a villain. So why isn’t it working?

I can’t tear my eyes off of this guy.