Magic, mystery, and romance are three things readers can expect in Beth Cato‘s steampunk fantasy adventure, The Clockwork Dagger. But what might not be obvious from the book’s description is that behind the airships and spies, there is another force at play: that of a race of little…well…read what their creator, Beth Cato, has to say about them! I’m very glad to know I’m not the only one who has a soft spot for little green “hideously adorably” critters!
I geek out over the gremlins in my Clockwork Dagger series. One of the amazing things about being a published author is that readers geek out over my gremlins, too. That made it all the more exciting to write a novella in my book universe that is all about these hideously adorable chimeras.
My gremlins are like green-skinned furless cats with bat wings. They are creatures melded out of magic and science, very steampunk stuff, and cobbled together from bits of other living animals. Most of them can’t speak with words, though they comprehend human speech and mew, purr, and use other means to make their opinions known. Continue reading Gremlins Galore! Geeking Out About Hideously Adorable Sidekicks
Writing Iron & Blood was so much fun, in part because the more we dug into Pittsburgh’s past, the cooler, geekier things we discovered. Iron & Blood is set in an alternative-history Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1898.
It’s a steampunk world of huge factories, fast trains, dauntless airships, mad doctors, clockwork zombies, crazy inventors, and artificially intelligent automatons, plus growing tension between old magic and new science. But the real Pittsburgh actually was the epicenter of steam-driven technology back in the late 1800s, with bigger-than-life figures like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, George Westinghouse, and many more. That created a lot of exciting, geek-worthy possibilities.
My husband and co-author, Larry N. Martin, and I lived in Pittsburgh for ten years and we’re originally from north of the city, so we had some ideas of where to start looking for odd facts and weird history that we could use in the book and series. And Pittsburgh did not disappoint! I read through dozens of books on Pittsburgh ghosts, urban legends, and folklore, geeking out over the stories about mysterious jets crashing into the river (and government cover-ups), mad scientists trying to keep severed heads alive, famous scandals—including one considered to be the “crime of the century” at the time—and strange hauntings. Perfect fodder for the kind of book we were writing, one that combined enough history and real landmarks to be recognizable, but with enough of a twist to be somewhere different.
Then there are the “what if?” questions real history serves up. What if—George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla had continued to work together? (In Iron & Blood they do, forming the Tesla-Westinghouse company).
What if the urban legend about the Congelier house and its gruesome history of Frankenstein-like experiments, murder, and explosions was actually true—and had a Steampunk twist?
What if the group of mines that boasted the largest mine in the world also had the deepest mine in the world—and it uncovered something ancient and evil, better left buried? What if Pittsburgh’s many immigrant groups brought not only their languages and foods but also their magic with them?
What if some of the old relics in the Carnegie Museum really were supernaturally powerful? And what if the legendary “green fairy” liquor was potent enough to do Absinthe magic?
We made a trip to Pittsburgh to refresh our memories about specific sites we planned to use in the book, like the warehouses of the Strip District, the mansions of Shadyside, the Ridge Avenue area where the Congelier House was supposed to be, and Homewood Cemetery, the site of a very unorthodox battle in Iron & Blood. That was probably our geekiest moment. I arranged for a private tour of the cemetery, especially Millionaire’s Row, where the wealthiest Pittsburghers like the Heinz family and the Mellons have been laid to rest for centuries. Seriously—these are mausoleums that “sleep” 21 bodies and have real Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows! So after warning our guide, Larry and I started to block out the battle scene, deciding where people would crouch, aim, and shoot! Of course, afterwards, we had to celebrate with a Primanti Brothers’ sandwich (French fries inside the bun) and a Pittsburgh steak salad (French fries in the salad). So much fun!
About the Authors
Iron & Blood is available online and in stores! You can also find more stories set in the world of New Pittsburgh with the Storm & Fury ebook short stories on Kindle/Kobo/Nook, including Resurrection Day. Our stories about New Pittsburgh and the characters from Iron & Blood also appear in several anthologies, including Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens, The Weird Wild West, and the upcoming Unbound.
Larry N. Martin is the co-author of the new Steampunk series Iron & Blood: The Jake Desmet Adventures and a series of short stories: The Sound & Fury Adventures set in the Jake Desmet universe. These short stories also appear in the anthologies Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens and Weird Wild West with more to come. Larry and Gail also have a science fiction short story in the Contact Light anthology.
In addition to co-authoring Iron & Blood and the Sound & Fury Adventures, Gail Z. Martin is the author of the new epic fantasy novel War of Shadows (Orbit Books) which is Book Three in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga; and Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (December 2015, Solaris Books). She is also author of Ice Forged and Reign of Ash in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books, The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books, and Deadly Curiosities from Solaris Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures, and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Heroes, With Great Power, and Realms of Imagination.
A Steampunk adventure novel set in the fictional city of New Pittsburgh.
New Pittsburgh in 1898, a crucible of invention and intrigue, the hub of American industry at the height of its steam-driven power. Born from the ashes of devastating fire, flood, and earthquake, New Pittsburgh is ruled by the shadow government of The Oligarchy. In the abandoned mine tunnels beneath the city, supernatural creatures hide from the light, emerging to feed in the smoky city known as “hell with the lid off.”
Jake Desmet and Rick Brand, heirs to the Brand & Desmet Import Company, travel the world to secure treasures and unusual items for the collections of wealthy patrons, accompanied by Jake’s cousin, Veronique “Nicki” LeClercq. Smuggling a small package as a favor for a Polish witch should have been easy. But when hired killers come after Jake and a Ripper-style killer leaves the city awash in blood, Jake, Rick, and Nicki realize that dark magic, vampire power struggles, and industrial sabotage are just a prelude to a bigger plot that threatens New Pittsburgh and the world. Stopping that plot will require every ounce of Jake’s courage, every bit of Rick’s cunning, every scintilla of Nicki’s bravura, and all the steampowered innovation imaginable. –
Please help us welcome fantasy author J. Kathleen Cheney to GeekMom! Ms. Cheney is the author of The Golden City series from Roc Books. The Shores of Spain, book 3 in the series, has just been released today.
The Real Steampunk
I’ve always thought that if I had a chance to do my life all over again, my new day job would be as a civil engineer. It would be right up my alley. I have a nerdy fascination with sewer systems, underground building design, highways, rooftop gardening, and distribution/transport systems.
So when I worked on the first of the Golden City novels (aptly titled The Golden City), I fell in love with these:
Those two beauties are the Titans in Matosinhos, Portugal.
For those people who live in areas with harbors, they might even recognize what they are. Essentially, they’re cranes that specialize in building breakwaters. A breakwater is an enclosed area around a harbor or river’s mouth that makes for calmer waters where a ship comes in to dock. What the Titans do is carry 10-ton blocks from a building yard out to the end of the breakwater (via its own railway) and set the block into the water. Once enough stone is there to support the crane, the railway is extended, and the Titan goes back to get another block.
(Titans, by the way, are a classification of crane. It’s not the name of this particular set of cranes. So there are far younger Titans all around the world, in many industrial and nautical settings.)
I’ve included this picture so that you can get a bit of perspective on how big they are. The little “house” that’s sitting atop the crane’s boom arm is actually the housing for the steam engine. Beneath that, inside the boom arm, is the ballast that balances the heavy weights (up to 50 tons) that the Titan is made to carry. It’s an amazing piece of technology, particularly when you realize that these two were made during the Victorian age.
You want steampunk? These babies are real steampunk!
In my first novel, I managed to squeeze these guys in. There’s a scene where my hero, Duilio, ducks behind one of that behemoth’s rail wheels for cover during a gunfight. If you look at the little tiny people standing around on the temporary tracks, that will give you an idea how tiny he must have felt hiding under the Titan’s bulk. It’s huge, and in his place, I would have been terrified.
Now, at a ripe old age of 132 years, the Titans have seen better days. As they’re not being used for loading, they generally sit idle on the breakwaters. However, one did have an accident in 1892—it was swept into the ocean during a storm. The city managed (after a few years) to haul the thing back out of the water and set it back on its railway tracks. In early 2012, one of the Titans dropped some metal (metal fatigue), causing a rupture in a gas line and an industrial fire. After that, the city decided that instead of demolishing them, they would refurbish the two Titans to stave off another accident. That fall, when I traveled to Matosinhos, one of the Titans was, indeed, missing, having been taken away for that promised work.
There are many people arguing for the Titans to be named International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmarks. There are actually very few of these things left throughout the world. One that was built in 1907, in Clydebank, Scotland, was recently converted into a bungee jumping site. So I watch with fingers crossed and hope that they will last another 132 years, and that our descendants will look at them and marvel that we could have—with our limited technology—have managed to build such beauties.
J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Writers of the Future, and Fantasy Magazine, among others, and her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, The Golden City was a Finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards (Best First Novel). The sequel, The Seat of Magic, came out in 2014, and the final book in the series, The Shores of Spain, will come out July 2015.
This week, my family and I attended our area’s first steampunk event, Sun City Steam Fest, held November 14-15 in El Paso, Texas.
We got suited up for the event (we even created our own steampunk gypsy headpieces), grabbed our modified Nerf gun weaponry, and headed off ready to make a splash among the performers, vendors, and reenactment troupes. When we arrived among the celebration, I came to the embarrassing revelation that my steampunk costuming efforts were incomplete. I had the look, sure enough, but as others introduced themselves and asked who I was, they weren’t looking for my “everyday” title; they wanted to know the story of my steampunk alter ego.
I didn’t have one.
The steampunk culture, as I’ve come to learn over time, is more than just cosplay. It is strongly embedded in history, classic literature, art, science fiction, and fantasy. Steampunk cosplayers don’t just dress to impress; they become completely emerged in their alter egos. While other forms of cosplay draw primarily from pre-established characters, these steampunk personae not only incorporate an original look, they often come with their own monikers and one-of-a-kind back stories.
The festival itself was held in the city’s historic downtown area, which has its own share of Old West history, creating an ideal setting for the event. The first evening’s kick-off tea was at the local paranormal society headquarters, Ghosts 915. It’s housed in a historic saloon and brothel, which is said to still be haunted by its former patrons. Saturday’s events were at a chic nightclub called Tricky Falls, a restored circa-1914 Henry C. Trost-designed theater, which is currently on the National Register of Historic Buildings. These hosting venues were joined by area steampunk and cosplay groups, The Clockwork Rebellion and Coyote’s Fortune, in creating the festival. This provided a lot of material with which the area steampunk community could utilize.
I took advantage of this rich pool of characters to get some advice on finding and developing my own steampunk persona.
Vendor “Dr. Robert Hatter,” purveyor of custom steampunk guns, said to “look into military names or other titles.” Also, try to move yourself up in rank or status. If you’re a Mr. or Ms., go by Doctor or Professor.
Clockwork Rebellion member “Oeil De’Blanc” made use of a second language to give his persona a more exotic edge. His name, French for “white eye,” refers to a prominent facial feature he sports. He said it helps to “read up” on the genre. Dig into some steampunk books and stories and see what’s out there. He said it’s also fine for steampunk cosplayers to work on more than one alter ego, and added his wife has more than one. For the day I attended, she was “Nikki Bolt,” top mechanic for an airship originally built by her father.
I learned that the difference between just a pretty costume and a well-developed character is what you don’t see. Some seasoned characters will give you a story worth hearing.
Another Clockwork Rebellion member, who went by “Bonnie Black Donnie O’Irish,” said he’s a history buff, and that his character is the product of an incredibly-detailed alternate history created for El Paso. Part of this history (if I have it all correct) dealt with the city not taking part in World War I, due to it being invaded by Mexico in 1916. The name “O’Irish,” he said, is a phrase for someone who puts on fake Irish airs or uses a false accent. Donnie’s companion for the day was “The Priestess Lilith,” who said she blended several mystic elements, including voodoo, to bring her character to life.
Members of Coyote’s Fortune, who present workshops on character development and prop-making at cons around the region, explained a good character is like a real-life person; always changing and developing. “Sonya Tyburn the Dragonslayer,” for example, started out as a simple mercenary, while “Captain Arcko Bancroft” is s crypto zoologist who continues to develop bigger and better means of capturing and studying mythical beasts.
Finally, whether or not the steampunk culture is part of a person’s everyday passions, they can still build a simple and believable character by drawing from their real-life experiences. A few I met included:
Viola Penelope O’Donnell. A character whose name was inspired by the family of her real-life alter ego. Both her grandmothers were “Viola” (one’s first name and the other’s middle name), and her cousin was Penelope.
Rev. Henry The Eighth. Henry is an ordained reverend in real life, who runs haunted history tours with Ghost 915. This worked well for his daughter’s persona, Gerll Sutcliff, a ghost hunter.
Baron Günter Von Nethen. The Baron’s character was a German airship captain who, after losing his troops in battle, was “banished” to the badlands of the borderland, where he is currently stationed. This was an easy choice, as the Baron’s real-world counterpart is an actual member of the German Air Force.
I do feel sufficiently armed with enough data to successfully put together a worthy steampunk persona. Alas, for my own alter ego, I’m currently following the path mentioned by the Dragonslayer…it’s a work in progress.
My family will be hitting our first full-fledged Steampunk event this weekend.
One of the best things about the steampunk genre is the impressive workmanship of their costumes and props. For beginners, some of these over-the-top movie prop-worthy accessories can be quite overwhelming, expensive, and time consuming, as well as hard to manage for younger kids.
For first-time and family steampunk cosplayers, as well as those who just want to add a little blend of Bohemian and steampunk styles to their regular garb, these simple coordinating steampunk hair pieces can give mother/daughter teams a united look, while keeping things age appropriate.
Toddlers and young girl don’t always want to keep heavy things on their head for very long, so a simple hair clip is all they need. Tweens are ready to look a little more adventurous, but still want to remain active. 13-year-olds don’t have to look like 18-year-olds to be cool. This is where the more athletic ponytail bands work well.
Older teens and adults can make a deceptively elaborate steampunk headpiece using a pair of cheap costume goggles. These don’t have to be steampunk-style goggles; flight goggles or costume aviator or police gear from dress-up sets will also work. You can also start from scratch and use GeekMom Marziah’s popular steampunk goggle tutorial to create your own. Who says parents can’t show off a little?
What you need:
Alligator or bendy hair clip (for toddler/kid version)
Two plain pony tail bands (for tween version)
Costume goggles (For teen/adult version)
Two or three packages of deco tubing ribbon
Craft foam, ribbons, yarn, rope, and twine
Steampunk charms, trinkets, keys, watch parts, beads, feather, or other accessories or found items
Step 1: Create the tubing ribbon base. This first step is where the different age versions of the hair pieces will best coordinate with each other, as long as similar color patterns are used. The difference is the way they are attached to the hairpieces. Deco tubing ribbon is often found in seasonal decorating areas of craft stores, and can be lightly colored with spray paint to change the colors, if necessary.
For toddler version: Wrap two or three colors of tubing around your hand three times, as if working on a gift wrap bow. Secure them in the middle with beading wire. Cut the loops at the ends, so it looks like a flower for fireworks. Don’t attach to the barrette yet.
For the tween version: Knot strand of tubing around the pony tail bands by folding them in half, and wrapping the ends around the band, and through the “loop” created by folding the strand. Make the length of each strand as long as you like; 18’ inches (before folding) works well. This is identical to the method used to make ribbon tutus or hairpieces; it’s just that simple.
For the adult version: Cut a piece of elastic long enough to reach the entire length of the goggles, but don’t actually attach them to the goggles yet. Knot long strands of tubing along the elastic, the same way as the tween version. Leave about two inches of elastic on each end.
Step 2: Add some “Industrial’ ribbon. Steampunk has to have a at least a little of Industrial Revolution to it, and lightweight materials like craft foam and ribbons are good stand-ins for metal or rubber.
For the toddler version: Cut a piece of black, grey, or brown craft foam in circle about two inches in diameter. Fold it in half, and then fold that half again, so it resembles a cone. Clip the tip off to create a small hole in the middle of the circle. Cut the outer edges of the circle to look like flower pedals, the open up the circle. Use a hole punch around the edges to give it that “industrial” look. Thread the wire that holds the tubing ribbon together through the center hole, as you would a flower boutonniere in a doily. Attach the arrangement to the barrette.
For the tween and adults versions: Cut lengths of ribbon or craft foam in long strands and fold the end over the band, randomly between the tubing pieces. Fold over and the band or elastic and lightly tack together with a needle and thread. Use the hole punch to make holes all along the length of the strip.
Once this is done on the adult version, tie the ends of the elastic around the goggles’ band on both sides of the lenses. Using a glue gun, secure the elastic strip to the back of the goggles, to hold it in place. Cover with an additional ribbon or piece of craft foam, to keep it in place.
Add some metallic-colored or earth-tone ribbon and yarn to fill it out, if you want.
Step 3: Accessorize! This final step is the most fun, and is where the personality of the hairpieces start to really show. Steampunk-looking accessories can be found in the most unlikely places. Dig around through junk drawers for keys and watch pieces, raid the toy chest for old pirate, space, fairy tale, or safari party favors, search tool boxes for washers and nuts, hit the bargain bin at the craft store for beads and steampunk/industrial charms, upcycle some old long-forgotten or broken jewelry, or head outside to the backyard, forest, or beach for small feathers, twigs, shells, or other odds and ends.
Beads can be placed on the ends of the tubing, or accessories can be tied on. Some items can be glued on the barrettes or goggles. Once finished, secrure the knots with a small drop of superglue if you are afraid of losing anything. More items can be added over time.
The rule with this step is, go light on the toddler/kid version (maybe just couple of little dangly items and two or three glued-on charms), add enough to the tween version to make the pieces fun, but not too heavy, and go as crazy as you want for the teen/adult version—within reason. You want to get noticed for an impressive piece, not for falling over from a too-weighted-down head.
That’s all there is to making eye-catching pieces of any age. These even look great for those not ready to commit to the full-on steampunk costume. Wear them with a t-shirt and jeans, skirt, or leggings and they will still draw attention, especially if you remember to wear them as a family.
Are you looking for something geeky to make for that special someone in your life, but have no idea where to start? GeekMom is here to help! We have crochet, sewing, and gluing projects for kids and adults. Take a look at some of our favorite DIY projects.
8-Bit Afghan. GeekMom Cathe has been crocheting up a Tribble-load of granny squares. The stacks of fibrous squares are being put together to make various geeky 8-bit images including a TARDIS, Spider-Man, and others. You can learn how to put together your own pattern from scratch for a gift this holiday or for any special occasion. (Average price $30)
Amy Farrah Fowler’s Blanket. GeekMom Sarah was enamored with this particular multi-colored afghan long before she was aware of its geeky origins. The fact that it rests on the couch of Roseanne Barr, the font of all knowledge in Sarah’s childhood, as well as on the couch of Amy Farrah Fowler, is icing on the cake. This Granny Square Afghan is adaptable to the size and coloring you prefer. It can be made over several months and pieced together at any point. Use scraps that you have or buy new yarn; it’s entirely up to you. (Average Price $0-30)
Felt Masks. Whether you wish to play dress up with your kids or move about your city incognito, these felt face masks are sure to help you. Quick to stitch up and easily adapted, you can put together a full costume-change library for the aspiring spy in your family. (Average Price $1-7)
Great Gatsby Dalek Dress.This is a fun little party dress for girls, and it even works for people who don’t know the difference between a Dalek and a Cyberman. Those who do, of course, seem to really enjoy the simple, 1920s-influenced look. (Average Price $25 )
Monster Patch. A monster face is an unexpected way to patch worn jeans. It’s also a method you can use to add personality to all sorts of gifts. Try adding a small monster patch to a blanket, bedspread, or pillow. Add a larger monster patch to a hoodie or backpack. Make it look like a dinosaur or a robot instead of a monster. Such patches are particularly fun to personalize hand-me-downs or thrift-store finds. Go ahead, patch a few gifts this year! (Average Price $1 per patch)
Peg Plus Cat Amigurumi. We are totally freaking out over this awesome “life-size” Amigrumi version of Peg’s feline companion, Cat, from the PBS show Peg Plus Cat. The finished product stands 12 inches tall and is perfect for cuddling and numerical conspiracies. (Average Price $5-10)
Plant Markers.Make a set of plant markers using spoons from the thrift store. They’re more durable than other markers and better yet, entirely your design. Use them as markers for house plants or potted herbs; give along with seed packets and garden gloves. Or, make them with your kids as you plan together what you’ll be planting in the spring. Costs depend on the repurposed spoons, but the other supplies are enough to make several hundred. (Average Price around 25 cents per spoon)
Sock Monsters. Need an easy project? Use socks and notions you have around to create a sock monster or two. These are made with baby- and toddler-sized socks, then decorated with felt, buttons, and embroidery floss. If you intend to give a sock monster to a baby or young child, it’s safest to add features by drawing or embroidering them on to forestall any risk of choking. (Average Price 50 cents-$3)
Star-Lord Orb. Complete your Star-Lord cosplay with a handmade Infinity Stone Orb as made by GeekMom Sophie. These are cheap and fast to make, so they would make great stocking stuffers or party bag favors. (Average Price $1-10)
Star-Lord Pack. This Guardians of the Galaxy-themed care package is great for personalized gift-giving as it can be easily modified to fit into a holiday gift package, or even as a Star-Lord themed Christmas stocking. This is the year for all things Guardians, so this is a wonderful, homemade addition to—or replacement for—the commercially-sold merchandise that I’m guessing will be pretty hot during the gift-giving season. (Average Price $30-50, but may be less or more depending on what items you want to put in it.)
Steampunk Doll Wings. Our entire family caught the steampunk bug before we even knew the word steampunk, particularly the props and cosplay ideas. My daughter wanted to make her own pair of Steampunk wings, but full-sized wings were a bit too much for her when she was 10. We came up with the idea of making them for her dolls using popcicle sticks and chenelle craft stems, and they turned out to be great project for us to do together. When she was done using them on her dolls, she attached the wings to a large barrette she could pin in her hair or on her hat. (Average Price under $10)
The latest Lego-inspired art book from No Starch Press, whose publications include Beautiful Lego and Art of the Brick, seems like an idea that has been needing to happen for sometime: Steampunk Lego by Guy Himber.
Himber is an award-winning Lego builder, who has worked on special make-up effects and animatronics for more than 50 feature films, such as Edward Scissorhands and Stargate. This book is certainly an amalgam of his interests and talents.
“The artists, authors, and filmmakers who work in the Steampunk genre value independence, creativity, and whimsy—which makes Lego a perfect embodiment of the Steampunk philosophy,” Himber explains in the book’s introduction to steampunk. “Lego builders don’t want mass-produced, generic things, but tools from which we can build our own unique ideas and creations.”
To illustrate this point, Himber (aka V&A Steamworks) has compiled great collection of creations by himself and other in the Lego steampunk community.
As indicated in the book’s subtitle, The Illustrated Researches of Various Fantastical Devices by Sir Herbert Jobson with Epistles to the Crown, Her Majesty Queen Victoria, the book is set up as a fictional sampling of some of the innovative inventions of the time. Steampunk culture is never one for over-simplified brevity, and each photo is accompanied by a descriptive narrative or backstory, as well as commentary from Sir Herbert and his cohort, Lt. Penfold
The “Cornwall Cannonball” locomotive engine, for example, is designed to “explode upon impact with enemy railships (or anything else, unfortunately).” This is why its pilot is seated at side of the engine in a tidy little ejection-ready seat.
There are several quotes by historic figures (real and fictional), who seemed to have an edge on all things steampunk long before the term was even coined:
“Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by to the truth.” — Jules Verne.
Every section of this book is more creative than the next, ranging from simple little oddities in the “Cabinet of Curiosities,” to elaborate multi-tiered floating worlds and gear-heavy machines and weapons in “Clockwork Beasties,” “Armaments and Sundries” or “Monowheels and Penny-Farthings.” Dave Degobbi’s “Crawler Town” and “Salty Town” mobile communities are exceptionally impressive, as well as V&A Steamworks’s “HMS Verne” and “The Golden Empress.”
Even the names of the devices, such as “Lord Sterling’s Entropic Molecule Disruptor” by Sterling Blunderbusswerks, are stories in themselves.
There is also a heavy Star Wars influence on these works and chapters like “Space!” feature steampunk tributes to some of the best-loved ships from the Star Wars universe. Standouts include the “Bow Tie Fighter” and the “Falcon of the Millennium.”
I love the artisanship in this tome, but Legos being Legos, seeing these creations makes we want to pour out my own bin of toy bricks, sit down with the family, and start building our own airship or mechanical man. It would seem that there would be a market for a companion book or even a section in this book that includes a build-it-yourself pattern or two. Having a design pattern or some building pointers would give me even more reason to want to browse through this book repeatedly.
Since No Starch Press already offers a handful of fun Lego “build-it” and “idea” books, I’m hoping it is only a matter of time until we see a steampunk version in the works.
Until then, there is plenty of inspired works for both kids and adults to enjoy from Steampunk Lego, and definitely plenty of imagination left to go around.
“I don’t want the crumbs anymore; I want the cake & icing. Everyone deserves the cake & icing.” –Bille Jean King.
Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. Since we last spoke, a major comic site reboots its entire forum community in response to being called for allowing trolls, I had a major geekout, there was a great talk on the need for superheroines, and I’m surprised by my story being called “feminist” when didn’t realize it was that radical.
I wrote it because I was sick and tired of “don’t read the comments” mindset in which we can’t talk about issues like adults on public spaces. I particularly called out ComicBookResources.com not only because they’d allowed trolling comments on a post in which former DC Editor Janelle Asselin critiqued a Teen Titans cover but also because of my own bad experience with CBR.
CBR used to host Gail Simone’s forum until it was clear that the moderators there weren’t taking homophobic and the worst kind of insults to female posters seriously. As one of the co-moderators of the forum, I took some flak but it was nothing compared to what my co-moderator took for being a lesbian.
Gail Simone pulled the forum and moved us over to Brian Bendis’ Jinxworld site, where we are today.
Let me put that another way:
One of the most prominent female writers in mainstream comics pulled her board from one of comic’s most popular websites because that website dismissed concerns about continued and frequent bullying and trolling of female and LGBT posters.
So when CBR announced on April 30 that they were completely rebooting its forums and would no longer allow these types of comments, my first thought wasn’t “all right, good for them,” it was “what took you so long?” (Gail Simone also had the latter reaction.) I did wonder if my column had anything to do with it. It was probably part of it, since I called them out on the reason Gail Simone’s forum was no longer there, but I suspect it was an amalgam of things.
Though it did make me think that next time I write a column, I should wish for a pony. Or maybe I should wish for women to be more than a tiny fraction of the women in the new Star Wars. (I’m more likely to get the pony.)
Speaking of dreams coming true….
Feminist? Strong Female Characters?
First, there’s an incredible post about wanting gender-swapping heroes and heroines at the Argh Ink blog which has over 100 comments already. Fun to read and yet another voice in the rising chorus for a female-led superhero movie.
And it’s made me think about some of the reviews I’ve gotten for the steampunk novel. Some of them mention that the main character, Joan Krieger, is the proverbial strong female character and that the novel is feminist.
This made me raise my eyebrows because I wasn’t think “write a strong female character” or “write a feminist book,” when I wrote Curse of the Brimstone Contract. I was thinking that an intelligent, ambitious young woman like Joan would naturally want more than the hand she was dealt. As a designer and seamstress, she sees the benefits of the nobility from the other side of the looking glass. She has the education and drive to do more than marry an eventual husband who will run her business but she’s stuck. I’d imagine a young male merchant in that situation who wanted more control of his destiny might feel the same, though at least he’d be allowed to run the business.
And, of course, the society in the steampunk world is in flux due to all the changes, as it was in our own Victorian Age. It was an age of questioning in science, in society, in politics. Again, it seemed natural that a smart person caught in this situation would chafe at restrictions.
What I’m saying is this didn’t strike me so much as “feminist” as “what a character in that situation might feel.” And I’m a little concerned that Joan is seen as unusual. Why is she so radical? Shouldn’t a multi-dimensional character be the default?
But I guess it is. I believe I was nonplussed because I hope every female character is like that. (Male characters too but they usually are.)
Well, that’s cool. Joan is called a “radical” in the book and she doesn’t like being a pawn. The hero, a Sherlock Holmes-analogue, accepts her for that but, again, not unusual given the very first short Holmes story that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote for The Strand magazine was “A Scandal in Bohemia.” And in that story, Holmes loses. To a woman. Who outsmarts him.
I wonder what Doyle would have said if someone called that story feminist. Probably not too much, I guess, given he had a love/hate relationship with his most famous creation anyway.
But Joan’s isn’t so unusual. She’s just the latest in a long line. Unfortunately, some of these earlier characters were kept under the rug. Wonder Woman gets depowered for a while. Then she’s brought back. Except now she’s Superman’s girlfriend. Black Canary is created in 1947 as a superhero with a male sidekick and eventually becomes Green Arrow’s girlfriend. Ms. Marvel is raped and impregnated by an interdimensional being and the rest of the Avengers think it’s cool she’s having a baby. (Yes, this was an actual storyline.)
“Let’s just put it this way: if you think there’s a thing–anything–women didn’t do in the past, you’re wrong. Women–now and then–even made a habit of peeing standing up. They wore dildos. So even things the funny-ha-ha folks immediately raise a hand to say “It’s impossible women didn’t do X!” Well. They did it. Except maybe impregnate other women. But even then, there were, of course, intersex folks categorized as “women” who did just that.
But none of those things fit our narrative. What we want to talk about are women in one capacity: their capacity as wife, mother, sister, daughter to a man. I see this in fiction all the time. I see it in books and TV. I hear it in the way people talk.” (But do go read the whole thing, not just the quote, it’s brilliant.)
I talked about how I can scan visual clues, ideas, and scribbles, and then flesh them out later in the process. But that’s really just the beginning.
The Post-it Notes from the Post-it Brand Evernote Collection are compatible with Evernote and come in four different colors— Limeade, Neon Pink, Electric Blue and Electric Yellow. I used the various Post-it Note colors by assigning each color to represent a different kind of element in the story.
Characters: Electric Yellow
Objects of Interest: Neon Pink
Events: Electric Blue
Using the same process as before, I can brainstorm all the bits and pieces I’ve collected and take snapshots, just as before. You can see that the end result isn’t exactly totally organized, but just wait!
Whereas in the past I have that whole steam train method, having all the elements of the story means that I can, quite literally, manipulate it.
There are two parts to the opening scene. Sid Cates, the husband of the main character Annie Cates, is at Ned’s Saloon, drunk and going on and on about his insane wife. Unbeknownst to him, Jennie—one of the members of my posse—is listening to him. She’s a chimera, among other things, but also has a super hearing ability. She and her posse have been tipped off that something might be going amiss.
You’ll see that I’ve got all the elements in the image above. The object of interest is the sign for Ned’s Saloon. The main character is Sid Cates—and the location is the bar itself. There’s the layout and everything, so I can picture it a little better in my mind.
The second part of the scene changes slightly. The focus goes outside as Sid Cates leaves. Numedique—“Dick”—who’s a French-Canadian vampire (because reasons is watching the scene now, but it’s Araby who comes to the fore and has some words with Sid. There’s also a LeMat pistol, in case you’re wondering. This is a paranormal Western, after all.
But, that’s not how the story has to go. I can arrange and rearrange. In person or—if I’m within the Evernote app—on my phone, too. I can organize by color, and then by tag if I need to get granular (I can even specify if something is “in progress” “definite” or “so-so”—or whatever nomenclature I decide to use to indicate how fully baked the idea might be). Tagging is really helpful in this situation, and is easily done on both mobile and desktop versions.
This is a huge departure for me. But it’s really exciting. I could, for instance, swap out Dick and Jennie. Maybe Dick hears Sid first, outside—then he tells Jennie to follow Sid, and sends in Araby after. And I don’t lose anything by fiddling around and taking snapshots. When I’m settled on what I want, I just delete the other versions if I want to.
My plan is to open this up to the whole novel, and work scene by scene. It’s helping me as a whole, and see the whole rise and fall of things before I even dig in and start writing.
This approach, of course could work in a hundred different ways. Recipes? Chores? What colorful projects could you organize with the right tools? Tell us all about it.
Learn more about the Post-it Brand Evernote Collection by visiting your local office supply store or http://Postit.com/Evernote , Post-it Brand on Twitter (@postitproducts ) or Facebook (facebook.com/postit ).
West Texas and Southern New Mexico are custom-made for steampunk, with all of the Wild West heritage, multicultural mix of ideas and styles, and a tech-heavy military backbone from Texas’ Fort Bliss to New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range. Not to mention, the region is also home to sites like the International Spaceport near Truth or Consequences and the world’s most famous “UFO crash site in Roswell.”
Despite the growth of the steampunk genre, many people in the area were still barely discovering this imaginative other-world of Victorian steam-powered futurism as recently as two years ago. Today, the area is representing the genre well with a growing number of steampunk cosplayers, artists and artisans, writers, and performance groups.
El Paso, Texas-based artisan “Captain” Edward Hall is a relative newcomer to the convention scene, but his custom steampunk props have already been a hit with customers.
“The appeal, I believe, that is attractive about steampunk, is the 1880 Victorian/Edwardian culture, American Wild West, with science-fiction fantasy storytelling,” Hall said. “Steampunk allows for the crossover of many different good-versus-evil characters that are still popular today, only dress them in elegant style of the European history.”
He said that he only first discovered this phenomenon had the term “steampunk” in 2011, although the concept itself goes back much further.
“’Steam’ being what fuels the ideas; ‘punk’ being the deviance from conformist everyday accepted science, fashion, technology, ideology, time, and space,” Hall said, “which is why authors such as (H.P.) Lovecraft and Jules Verne are so popular as being original steampunk authors.”
While creating his own steampunk persona, Hall said he uses parts of his own history to evolve them into a character who might have existed in the “aether” world of steampunk.
“For instance, I have years in the military, so creating a military-esque character with English overtones is not so difficult. Lords and Ladies, Airship Pirates and Sky Captains, could legitimately exist in this world,” Hall said. “It can be very unique depending on how creative you are, or you can simply blend in with what has already been done or seen. The community of steampunk is like no other culture when it comes to the accepting of individuals’ ideas for character. This is also why it is so popular.”
Some of his own creations that resonate well with customers include attention-getting devices of shiny brass or that light up and make noise.
“Heroes need always to have gadgets of some type or weapons to defeat their adversaries. Hence, the lightsaber or blaster,” he said. “I have always liked firearms, but science-fiction firearms. What if John Wayne or Clint Eastwood had an electro-static Tesla-coiled hand cannon for a sidearm? What would it look like?”
Hall said that steampunk crafters have been grateful to the Nerf company for making toy arms that, when painted or manipulated in some way, make that steampunk vision come to life. The most popular of these is the Nerf Maverick pistol. With this vision in mind, he said he would like to create artifacts that an adventurer in a steampunk story would need and want, and he likes to draw from other science-fiction genres as well for inspiration.
“Like a Star Trek away team had phazers, communicators, and tricorders, I would like to make similar items using brass, wood, copper, and things that would have been readily available,” Hall said. “I get most of my building materials from Goodwill, or flea markets, or hardware stores.”
Hall has found the regional cons, including Sun City SciFi in El Paso and various others in Southern New Mexico, to be the perfect venues, especially with the steampunk genre becoming more visible.
Even as a first-time vendor at Sun City SciFi in March, many of Hall’s items sold out on just the first day. He plans to attend more events, as long as they remain fun. If his interest becomes too much of a “business,” however, then he knows the fun has stopped.
There are plenty of other steampunk practitioners still embracing that fun, including Threnody Radio out of Roswell, New Mexico.
Threnody formed last year, combining the medium of classic radio theater with a gothic steampunk edge. This “dark fantasy radio drama” often collaborates with other artists and performers to create “a realm of fantasy and dark workings, which travels worlds.” According to Threnody Radio’s co-founder, who goes by the moniker Lord Epitaph, “Threnody,” meaning “songs for the lamentation of the dead,” was a word he ran across as a young boy.
“It is another word for a funeral dirge. Once I read that, I took to liking it,” he said. “Never had a use for it until the radio show. Because we started off sitting around the laptop talking about science and all things dark, it came naturally after that.”
Epitaph said Threnody Radio is certainly a diverse endeavor. He and co-founders Lady Epitaph (Lord Epitaph’s wife) and friend Professor Brassthorn began Threnody “on a whim,” wanting to do an internet radio show. Within a week of having the idea, they broadcast their first transmission. He said the project has evolved quite a bit in just one year.
“It was nothing like we do today,” Epitaph said. “Our first episodes were the three of us talking about ghosts, blood, imaginary friends, and other offerings. It really all depended on what we felt like. It was not until we had a few episodes behind us that we got the idea to start telling a story.”
This was quite the undertaking with just the three of them, so they acquired a fourth Threnody participant, author M.B. Christopher (Tempus Transformare: Catalyst).
Epitaph, who has been going by his steampunk moniker for about 15 years, said his persona’s backstory, which involves his character fighting “The Reaper” for his own life over the course of a year, goes even further back. He said these types of tales are what make steampunk and goth such good companions.
He hopes Threnody will help promote this marriage of genres, as well as bring a heightened awareness of the world of steampunk.
“It is about time that steampunk gets the recognition that it rightly deserves,” he said. “We here at Threnody like the idea. They both transcend each other in a nice complimentary way. I think the allure of the genre is that it is still on the ground floor, if you will. There is room for this to grow like nothing else.”
Epitaph, Brassthorn, and Christopher have made the rounds at science-fiction conventions and other events, promoting their show and their various artistic talents. Many guests approach them unaware of what Threnody Radio actually is. They rely on their con appearances as a way to help raise funding for future upgrades in broadcasting software.
Since Epitaph and his wife maintain their personas, even outside of cons, they often get approached by people wanting to know for what event they are “dressed up.”
“We always tell them that this is what we wear,” Epitaph said. “After a while, people see us always dressed like we do and realize it is not just a thing. We do this all the time.”
He shared his advice for those wanting to create their own persona, and said coming up with a “moniker” should be the first step. Once the name is established, creating a good backstory of “who you are” is also important.
“Take any situation where you were asked all the social questions like where were you born, what do you do, how did you get those scars, etc. If you can answer these and have a few good stories to go with it, it makes it so you sound genuine,” Epitaph said. “Staying in your character while talking to people is also important.”
He said he gets to talk with a lot of people at events and encourages anyone interested in getting into steampunk or similar worlds to not be afraid to ask those involved about it.
“If you are not sure on how to go about it, ask. I have yet to meet anyone in the goth or steampunk community that won’t stop and give some advice,” he said. “We had a girl at our first con who thought we spent a lot of money on our clothes. We told her the truth. It was just stuff we had in the closet that we embellished.”
More than anything else, Epitaph said, it simply takes imagination and not being afraid to keep in character.
“Yes, people will look at you funny. Yes, you will entrance children and scare old ladies,” he said. “But there is nothing else in this realm, or my own, that is better than feeling what in your own eyes is normal.”
Hall agrees, and feels one of the most appealing things about the steampunk world is something that can be very recognizable, but also very personal.
“Steampunk is something they can be and do,” Hall said. “You can dress like Iron Man or Batman, but you can be your own hero or villain as a steampunk.”
Welcome to this week’s adventures in climbing the cliffs of insanity and, yes, once again we’re talking about women in comics. Why? Because I’ll keep talking about it until things actually change. This week, the discussion over sexual harassment in the comics industry continued with many female creators chiming in with their experiences.
In personal news, my kids and I took a trip into New York City to tape a segment for the Nickelodeon show, Take Me To Your Mother, and I received a cover for my upcoming steampunk detective romance, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract. (Have I mentioned I’m never satisfied with just one genre?)
That’s the Sound of a Butterfly Flapping Its Wings
Sexual harassment of female creators in comics, in the mainstream press, at conventions, and even in the independent press has historically been an issue. But as I noted last week, it’s not an issue of the past, it’s one of the present and it affects what we read, the characters we love, and the myths we tell ourselves.
And if anyone thinks that comics, particularly superheroes, aren’t important inspirations, I’ll only point to Batkid’s adventures in San Francisco last week, one of the most heartwarming news stories I’ve read in ages.
The current discussion (or furor depending on where you read the articles) was kicked off when comic creator Tess Fowler identified Brian Wood of the X-Men, DMZ, and a game designer for Grand Theft Auto, as someone who made a pass at her one year at San Diego Comic Con, watched her for hours in a bar, invited her up to his room to help her with her ‘career,’ and when she didn’t show, publicly humiliated her on the con floor.
From Huehner’s Twitter: “I mean, who does this sh** have to happen to before you care about it? Who else has to be subjected to this?”
From Asselin’s Tumblr post:
because there’s always a reason for us to stay silent about our attackers. In my case and in the case of many of my friends and acquaintances it’s because we want to keep working in comics and we don’t want to get wrapped up in the insanity that invariably follows the outing of such harassers. It’s even come up that saying anything at all, even not naming names, could impede getting work (a big consideration for me at the moment). Here’s the thing: if you don’t want to hire me because I’ve lived through harassment and refuse to be scared off from the comics industry, frankly I don’t want to work for you anyway. I, and other women who have been harassed, shouldn’t have to feel shame because we were harassed. I can be ashamed that I didn’t always call out the behavior, but I can also know that occasionally, as often as I could, I did the right thing and stood up for myself and other women.
And Gail Simone, current writer of Batgirl, Red Sonja, and The Movement, pointed out in her twitter feed that Colleen Doran, author of the classic A Distant Soil, and Lea Hernandez, an Eisner-nominated creator and artist on Simone’s Killer Princesses, have been talking about this for years and taking all kinds of abuse for it. Doran told me at New York Comic Con that she wished for a time that she didn’t enter comics because of all the harassment.
Think on that. We might not have Colleen Doran’s brilliant storytelling because of this.
This is unacceptable. Everyone who’s anyone in this industry knows this stuff goes on, even at the highest levels. No one’s naming names because the female creators fear, quite rightly, that they won’t get work if they do. They’ll be labeled “problems” or “bitchy” or even “crazy.”
That means the problem isn’t just the direct harassers. No, the problem is those enabling those direct harassers by not calling them on it or taking action. After what I’ve heard this week, publicly and privately, I will never believe those in charge don’t know who among their people are problems.
We’re losing too many brilliant creators this way. When Doran talks about wishing she never started her comic career partially because of this stuff, when others never get their work seen because they’ve been hit on my editors and refused them or are turned away if they’re not pretty enough, their stories are lost and that’s a tragedy for everyone who loves comics.
The harassers are a problem. They’re a small minority. But there’s another group who stands by, does nothing or even belittles the events that happen.
So if you’re a guy and you’re standing around and watching when an incident happens at a con—do something or you’re part of the problem. If you’re an employer of a creator who does this garbage, impose consequences or you’re part of the problem.
If you’re in a position to hire and you notice you’ve only got two female employees out of 200, you’re part of the problem. That’s not hiring for diversity’s sake, that’s correcting the impulse that obviously led you to self-select male creators for your entire work force. If you’re working for DC Comics and you actively work to sideline female characters because they’re not “sexy” enough or if you change their body type to make them more “sexy” and thus more f*** (see: Amanda Waller), then you’re part of the problem.
If you’re on a message board and someone relates a story of harassment, don’t let your first response be “oh, it wasn’t that bad” or “ah, she’s crazy” or “hey, I’d hit that too.” If you do, you’re also part of the problem.
Some of these are larger problems, some smaller. None of them are happening in a vacuum. The sooner we all realize it, the sooner change will come. That’s why I’m writing this, to keep the conversation going until action is taken.
A sea change is coming, slowly and it will eventually become a tidal wave.
Or so hopes the optimist in me.
Meanwhile, while the internets were abuzz, the mom in me was busy schlepping my four kids into New York City so we could be stars. Well, not quite stars. Maybe geek stars?
Forbidden Planet Field Trip!
Last weekend, all four minions and myself went into New York City to be part of a morning filming of the NickMom television show, Take Me to Your Mother, at the Forbidden Planet near Union Square.
I love trips to the city because they’re always an adventure.
Crossed off the bucket list as a result of this one:
1. A real NYC, hair-raising, terrifying taxi ride.
2. Proper New York City-style pizza! I ordered way more than I expected the five of us to eat. We had one slice left.
3. Forbidden Planet, of course, a city mecca for geeks.
4. Seeing the Empire State Building, all lit up, only a block away.
5. Finally figuring the proper exit door to take when leaving Grand Central Station. (And, no, Grand Central Station never gets old.)
And the filming itself?
A fascinating process. We all dressed up in some form or another. I was Lois Lane (Amy Adams-style), my youngest daughter was Wonder Woman, my eldest wore her Sunnydale High School shirt, my eldest son rocked his Bobby from Supernatural cosplay, and the youngest son wore a Flash t-shirt. (Jay Garrick version.)
Comedian Andrea Rosen narrates the show, asking parenting advice from different types of moms so her kids don’t grow up to be jerks. She asked us questions about what geeky means, what type of things we’re geeky about, and whether my being a geek influenced my kids.
That all was fun–and less nerve-wracking than I expected–but I was more interested in watching the behind the scenes stuff.
The crew set up the shoot as a mock book signing, with Andrea asking us questions while we were “in line.” There were numerous cameras, various lights, and crew that numbered about ten. (They all kept moving around, so I couldn’t get an accurate count.)
I wish I had more time to ask all the crew how they got into this work, and what they loved or hated about it. (Hey, I picked Lois as a cosplay for a reason.)
Our segment will only last about a minute or so, though filming took nearly half and hour and will air in the spring at some point. So stay tuned for details.
And speaking of geeky kids, one of my very first geek-outs when I was a kid was over Sherlock Holmes. I devoured the Canon for years, until I nearly had not only the stories memorized but also the notes in W.S. Baring-Gould Annotated version.
And so you can imagine my glee when I sold my Holmes-inspired romantic steampunk, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract. It’s due out in ebook on April 22nd and here’s the cover:
You don’t need a full-blown costume to make a splash on Halloween, just a good make up artist. Connecticut-based make up artist Christen Gundersen, has been posting regularly on her facebook page since she first got the Halloween bug back in August! Take that party dress and transform yourself into a Zombie pinup, pull out that wedding dress for a Tim Burton-esque bride, the beauty is in the make up.
You can get inspiration of the spooky and Steampunk variety on pinterest, and on more basic makeup techniques for costuming on the Makeup by CG blog.
For the zombie look: Makeup by CG recommends the mixing of red blood and black zombie blood for a more realistic wound. After color has been achieved, the trick to making it look wet and real is Vaseline and blending. You can achieve that after life look by lightening the color of your face, whilst simultaneously darkening the eyes. Don’t be too liberal with the whitening, Zombie clowns just aren’t fun!
For the steampunk look: Contrast is your friend. Bright lips, dark hair. Light hair, dark lips. The opposing colors will bring out the juxtaposition of old and new that is associated with steampunk. If you aren’t afraid of a little adhesive, try attaching some small metal gears to your face, metallic is your friend.
General tips to keep your Halloween make up in place:
– First make sure your face is clean, oil-free but moisturized, then prime away.
– You not only need to prime your face, but your eyes too. Makeup by CG prefers powder blushes and shadows over creams. Creams can smear, melt, and run more easily.
– When lining your eyes, try liquid liner instead of a pencil. Pencils have a wax base, when wax heats up it melts, a no go for costume night. If you do use a pencil, it is a good idea to set your liner with a coordinating shadow color.
– Make sure that your lips are moisturized well and exfoliated before applying lip color.
– Line your lips before your lipstick. This helps to stain the lips, keep the color lasting longer, and helps keep color within the lines better.
– Once you achieve the look you want, make sure to use a setting, translucent, or blotting powder.
If it’s more than tips you’re looking for, and you are in the Connecticut area, you can book yourself in for a Halloween transformation party. Makeup by CG has a wide variety of props. You provide the main costume and they provide hair and make up to channel your inner monster. You can bring friends and adult beverages to this event, music and atmosphere provided.
When you think of steampunk, Disneyland is probably not the first thing that comes to mind, but did you know that there were plans back in the 1970s for new land which would have incorporated steampunk themes and even an airship ride?
The project was the brainchild of imagineer Tony Baxter, who will be honored this Saturday as a Disney Legend at an award ceremony at the D23 Expo in Anaheim. Though Baxter was responsible for some of the most beloved Disney theme-park attractions (including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Journey Into Imagination, and Splash Mountain), one of his most imaginative and interesting visions never left the drawing board. A life-long fan of Jules Verne, Baxter incorporated the author’s sense of adventure, exploration, and forward-looking imagination into the designs for Disneyland’s Discovery Bay, an expansion to Frontierland that would have stood along the banks of the Rivers of America. He and fellow imagineer Tom Scherman were so enthusiastic about the idea they even produced a five-minute television pilot called “Discovery Bay Chronicles” and built a 1/20th scale model, which was put on display in the park.
Although the term “steampunk” wouldn’t be coined for another decade, the retro-futuristic aesthetic is recognizable in the designs and promotional material for Discovery Bay, much of which has survived and found new life on the internet. Set in a fantastical version of San Francisco during the post-gold rush era, the proposed new land would have included some seriously cool themed rides, food vendors, and retail locations. Imagine a Tesla coil, an animatronic collector of oddities, a time machine, a fireworks shooting gallery, and an underwater restaurant inside a submarine all existing within walking distance of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Space Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
The concept went through several permutations, but the main showpiece was consistent throughout the development process—a massive hangar revealing the front end of an airship, the Hyperion, from the now-forgotten 1974 adventure film The Island at the Top of the World. The hangar would have housed a tie-in ride that would have taken guests on a simulated flight aboard the Hyperion above icy Arctic waters, with spectacular views of a frozen landscape, the northern lights, and the ruins of an ancient city. Contrary to popular belief, the fact that the movie flopped wasn’t the only reason the plans for the land were ultimately abandoned, but it certainly didn’t help.
A Disney company memo dating back to 1976 proclaims that Discovery Bay would “bring to life a time and place that climaxed an age of discovery and expansion.” There was to be a Chinese settlement incorporating the aforementioned Fireworks Factory shooting gallery, an aerial tramway known as The Great Western Balloon Ascent, and an electro-magnetic roller coaster called The Spark Gap (also referred to at various stages as The Electric Loop, The Tower, and The Spiral). A model of the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would have been visible off the coast, partially submerged. At various points in the attraction’s development it would have contained a walk-through experience or possibly a Grand Salon, where guests could dine while taking in a colorful underwater view. There was also Professor Marvel’s Gallery, a revolving theater promising “a fascinating visit with the foremost collector of the exotic, weird, and whimsical from all over the world.” And did I mention the Lost River Rapids water ride that would have taken guests back in time to the prehistoric age? Dinosaurs, y’all. I mean, come on.
Which leads us to the obvious question: Why wasn’t this showcase of awesome ever built? The reasons given for this are many, but it all comes down to money and timing. At the same time the Disneyland team was busy putting together the proposal for Discovery Bay, two major ventures were coming down the pipeline which would ultimately take precedence—EPCOT Center and Tokyo Disneyland. Between the two of them, they siphoned off most of the company’s creative and financial resources. By the time the dust had settled, Disneyland executives had moved on to hotter, more high-profile endeavors, including the production of the big-budget Captain EO film starring Michael Jackson, the launch of the kid-friendly Splash Mountain (prompting the transformation of Bear Country into Critter Country), and the acquisition of licenses for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones properties.
Fortunately, the creative concepts for Discovery Bay didn’t die on the vine. Baxter went on to incorporate some of the ideas into other Disney parks and, many years later, into Disneyland itself with the 1998 redesign of Tomorrowland. The animatronic host of Professor Marvel’s Gallery and his pet dragon would later reappear as the Dreamfinder and Figment in EPCOT’s Journey into Imagination, and Disneyland Paris would get its own variation on the Jules Verne theme in a section called Discoveryland. You’ll find a version of the Nautilus walk through there, as well as a model of the Hyperion hanging above a cafe with a decidedly steampunk aesthetic. Considered at one time to be the largest prop ever built for a theme park, the ship’s nose cone can be seen poking out of an open hangar in homage to the original concept drawings.
If you want a thrilling (if bittersweet) read, you can find the full text of that original company memo over at Jim Hill Media, a site devoted to all things Disney. Or check out Disney history site The Neverland Files for more on the various phases of the project and the reasons why we were denied this land of mechanical marvels.
Several years ago, my mom spilled some paint on the driveway and just went with it. The kids and I joined in with whatever paint we had in the garage until the whole driveway was a colorful ocean-themed picture. It was fun and bright, but our driveway was in bad shape, and the paint faded and chipped at different rates, creating an colorful crumbling mess.
Last summer we redid the driveway; the colorful paint was gone. I missed it. So this year, instead of sealing everything with blacktop (which is horrid for the environment and smells terrible) we decided to paint it again. But this time, it was planned out. All that we needed was four days that we were home and had no rain.
It wasn’t until mid-July that we were able to do the project and we love how it came out! Here’s a step-by-step guide to doing it yourself. It doesn’t have to be a steampunk ship in a cloudy sky; do whatever gets your geek on. And you don’t have to be an artist, just look up images you like and copy them as best you can. Or just do colorful swirls or stripes. Here is my very non-professional design for our driveway.
FIRST STEP: clean the driveway. This is really fun with a group! My driveway is about 30 feet by 30 feet. We used an entire bottle of dish detergent, the hose, and brooms to scrub. I applied the detergent to the greasy spots ahead of time to help break them up. We don’t have any photos of my mom, my kids, and I dancing around with bubbles all over the driveway because we were having too much fun to stop and take photos. But my daughter got me rinsing away the soap.
WAIT FOR IT TO DRY COMPLETELY. This depends on where you live. In the northeast, where it is humid, we had to wait a day in between the washing and coats of paint.
SECOND: Put down your first coat of paint based on what your theme is. We chose blue for the sky. I went to the paint store and asked for latex/acrylic paint. I told the guy about my 30×30 driveway and he predicted that we might need four gallons for a first coat. Second “ha” for this project. In the end it took fourteen gallons. And going back and forth to the paint store made them very interested in my project, making suggestions and comments on my progressively blue splattered self.
WAIT FOR IT TO DRY COMPLETELY. This actually took us a couple of days because we painted a small amount of blue but weren’t sure about the shade. We waited till the next day to make a final decision, didn’t like it, and started all over.
THIRD: Now you can play with chalk. I traced a rough outline of the skyship. I put down circles for where I wanted the clouds to be. Then I climbed on top of my car to survey the placement and made a few adjustments.
FOURTH: Start painting the design. I did the clouds, and smoke from the ship. My son and mom took over the wooden planks of the ship. My daughter did the pipes, gears, and portholes. This took two days because some of the paint would be layered on top of others.
WAIT FOR IT TO DRY COMPLETELY and then wait some more. If you put in that much work and then mess it up by putting tire tracks on it…sad. Actually, what’s really sad is that we now have three cars, a table, and chairs filling up our driveway.
But when I step out of my car, I step onto clouds, making my way to my house, which is really a steam sky ship off on adventures. Added bonus is the paint that splattered on my toes looks like a very fancy nail polish design!
This was a hard month. I really wanted to add an octopus. I didn’t want to make something cutesy, and I didn’t want to make something so detailed it would be impossible to sew. So, in the name of avoiding an overly twee design, I went dark. I wanted this thing to be a mix of Victorian biology sketch and something that Lovecraft would suggest might be waiting to devour your soul if you start reading out of that suspiciously evil looking book over there…
Did it work? You let me know. This is probably the most difficult block so far. The eyes are pretty tiny, so this might be the month you want to hand sew the appliqué, or you may want to just use thread or beads to make the blacks of those eyes. You could also skip the lighter green areas and just make it an outline with eyes if the small parts are too much.
As usual, I’ve included both regular and mirrored patterns for your tracing convenience. Be sure to print at 100%. Finished block size is 12×12 inches, so a 14×14 inch square is recommended for proper placement. Download the PDF pattern here.
So here’s our quilt so far:
Didn’t get started? Miss a month? Not to worry. The year isn’t over, is it? There’s plenty of time to catch up! Here’s what you missed:
Sure, you can pick up a USB drive for $20 or so at any office supply store. But are they this awesome? Etsy seller Derrick Culligan crafts “accurate reproductions of items that never existed” for sale in his Etsy shop, Steamworks. These fab USB drives made with brass, copper, glass, and watch parts, for instance. They run from $100-250 or so, but just think how much you’ll impress the folks at your next con when you whip one of these babies out. (Alas, while the gears look functional, the operation of the flash drive is purely electronic.)
May is almost over, but not without a May block of the month! This month has a crazy ray weapon.
The piecing is slightly trickier on this one. I’d suggest appliquéing the trigger area as a separate piece of background fabric you sew on top instead of cutting a hole in the black gun base fabric. The red cutouts on the brass of the gun and wooden inlay on the gun grip can be handled the same way.
The finished quilt piece should be 12×12 inches, and the pattern has both normal and mirrored tracing images for your convenience.
The Lego community has already been making some really great steampunk builds (here’s a good list for starters). Now Lego is rewarding us with an actual steampunk set. Due in July, it’s part of the Lego Master Builder Academy and called “Invention Designer.” If you’re not familiar with Lego Master Builder Academy, it means there are multiple kits with even more things to build from them. They’re sets meant to teach building technique and skills. Most of the kits are 3-in-1, meaning that you can make three different things with the same set of bricks. With Level 3 MBA kits, we saw 11-in-1. The steampunk line will be level 4 with three kits and 13 builds.
It’s been such a fun week exploring the fragrance artistry of our sponsor, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. If, like me, you are lucky enough to own their most magical brews you’ll understand why I get so giddy over them. I’m constantly asked what perfume I’m wearing (often with very expensive guesses) and I always get to reply, “Oh, neutral rogue. You know.”
That said, our final highlight is a particular thrill for me to share because it has to do with one of my favorite things in the world: steampunk. The Steamworks collection puts its own spin on the genre du jour, offering a wide array of swoon-worthy scents. The illustrations in this collection come courtesy of Mlle. Julie Dillon, who captures the mad science and beautiful machinery of this imagined future past.
Often we do, quite literally, judge a book by its cover. And like the cliché implies, sometimes what’s inside is so much more than what we expected. I certainly don’t mean to imply anything negative about the cover of Vintage Tomorrows–in fact, it was the cover that first drew my eye. What I didn’t expect was 383 pages that connected so many dots for me, so many of my interests that I had no idea were related, much less that they could all draw lines back to steampunk.
The book’s subtitle, A Historian and a Futurist Journey Through Steampunk Into the Future of Technology, summarizes as well as so few words can what’s to be found inside, but what it really gives you a glimpse of is the duality of the co-authors, one looking back and the other looking forwards. James Carrott is the historian half, but also was once the global product manager for the Xbox 360. Brian David Johnson looks into the metaphorical crystal ball to see technology’s future for Intel. The title of the first chapter, “A Futurist and a Cultural Historian Walk Into a Bar,” gives you a good idea of the tone of the rest of the book (much of which was imagined over pints of beer). It’s an academic tome with distinctly non-academic language. In referring to steampunk as “‘postmodern’ like nobody’s business,” Carrott notes, “and I hope never to use this word again in the course of this entire book (scary, bad academic things happen when one invokes such demons).” I wholeheartedly agree.
It’s time for April’s block of the month in our steampunk quilt. This month we’re sailing on an airship. No worries about physics or how much weight must be at the bottom of that massive thing. I’m sure there’s a gear-driven anti-grav device powering the ship behind the scenes. And flapping those wing-fins for no apparent reason.
The finished block will be 12×12 inches. That means it will actually measure 12.5 x 12.5, and I’d recommend starting with a block of at least 14×14 and cutting it down.
The template this month does not include seam allowance. I’ve included both forward and reversed versions of the pattern. One version is just the pieces and is designed to overlap and layer.
I’d recommend some embroidery or couching to enhance the fins, which is why I’ve shown it that way in the preview. Here’s our quilt so far:
Japanese steampunk. Yeah, I said Japanese steampunk. Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff is a dystopian feudal Japan setting with Iron Samurai wielding chainsaw katanas. Chainsaw katanas.
The world of Shima was once bound with nature and the spirits, but the destructive spiral of industrialization , war and corruption, has polluted the land to the brink of unsustainable collapse. The Lotus Guild, the ruthless clockwork makers, are in a tense tug of power with the sadistic Shogun.
After the first couple of chapters I had to share how cool the setting was with my fourteen year old son. His eyes grew wide at the seamless blending of traditional Japan with gears and piston engines.
“Was Japan like that at all?” He asked. And then I launched into how Japan was forced into the industrial world via Commodore Perry. This led to me waxing poetically about the movie The Last Samurai, going on and on until we talked about what it would be like if aliens invaded and we had to adapt to such foreign technology, etc, etc. Until I realized my son was using this conversation as an excuse to stop doing his homework. Back to work! And I got back to my book…
Stormdancer is like a great kung-fu movie, where violence really can solve most of your problems. The heroine Yukiko is compassionate: she saves puppies and gives her last coins to a beggar woman. But Yukiko is also brave and will never stop fighting; even as she slips into unconsciousness, she is groping for her knife. Yukiko can slice your up, and if she somehow can’t, then her freakin’ THUNDER TIGER will!
That’s the best part of this book, the growing relationship between Buruu, a mythological thunder tiger, and Yukiko. It is done at a beautiful pace. The stormdancer fight scene (not going to explain that further so as not to ruin it for you) is the highlight of the book. I actually put the book down to imagine it again in slow motion. So cool.
The plot is revenge on the small scale, and complete governmental destruction on the larger plan of the series. The body count is incredibly high in this book, and so many characters die, I was getting concerned of who would be around for the rest of the series. The bad guys are really, really evil. They are so evil that you know there is only one option: cold, very bloody, horrible death.
This is not a book about nuance. Like I said, it is a well-done kung-fu movie, but with a female heroine, and a detailed new fantasy setting. That said, there is one side character that seemed less legendary, more real: Kin. He is a guildsman, one of the makers of the industry, but he is struggling to break free of his metal skin. Will he be able to? Not sure, but I’m curious about his journey.
This book is upper YA for violence. My son wanted me to just tell him the basic story instead of reading the bloody details himself. I picked up the book at my local book store because I completely judge a book by its cover and the artwork is truly cool. Exciting read!
This month’s block is a corset, a staple of female steampunk costumes. I’ve accented mine with a bright red ribbon, but you could also go with a bright red corset and change the ribbon color. I’d suggest making the corset body out of one fabric and adding the “boning” strips over the top. Have fun with patterns in that corset body fabric. (I plan on using Morris Reproduction prints from Moda in mine.) As usual, the finished block is 12×12 inches, but I’d suggest starting out with a 14×14 block for easier positioning.
If you haven’t been sewing along, it’s never too late to start on this quilt. If you’ve made a previous block of the month, please post a picture in the comments! I’d love to see what you’ve made.
It’s time for February’s block of the month in our GeekMom steampunk-themed quilt. Last month’s pattern is available here. It’s never too late to get started, and it’s never too late to get caught up.
This month, the pattern is a steampunk staple – the hat with goggles. Whether you’re using them to go racing in experimental vehicles or weld together mad science inventions, you really can never have enough goggles. Incidentally, if you want to make a pair of costume goggles to go along with your quilt goggles, I’ve got a tutorial for that.
I’ve suggested a purple or indigo as the contrasting fabric for the side band, but greens or reds would also be lovely. Prints with metallic elements would be great in the metal part of the goggles, too.
Here’s the link to download this month’s PDF pattern. There are a few other quirks this month I should warn you about. Because this pattern is nothing but large, overlapping pieces, there’s no avoiding tape. Print out the pattern and then tape it together before tracing. You can either trace individual pieces, designed to overlap, or you can trace from the hat fully assembled. I’ve mirrored the image for the fully assembled template, since that’s how most appliqué methods would have you trace it, anyway.
I realize that I still owe you a tutorial on appliqué. I’m still working on it, and I will get that done for you soon.
I love to make geeky quilts, and this year I thought you might love to make one, too. That’s why I’m introducing the first ever GeekMom quilt-along. This will be a block of the month style quilt, where I’ll introduce a new quilt block every month. (And no, none of them will be question marks.) Don’t worry, even beginners can make this quilt. Really.
Later this month I should have a tutorial up for those who are new to quilting. This quilt uses appliqué, which sounds a lot harder than it actually is. This can be done either by hand or by machine. It makes an excellent busy hands activity while watching Doctor Who. Assuming you’re not already occupied by knitting a ridiculously long scarf.
It’s also something that can be done as a family. As I’ve mentioned before, I think sewing is a fantastic skill to teach your geeklings. It might be a great first project to approach with your son or daughter as you learn how to use a sewing machine together.
This year’s theme is steampunk, so suitable fabrics are quilting cotton in sepia tones. Victorian prints, vintage postcards, paisleys, gears – you could have all sorts of fun with the fabric selection. Please do use quilting cotton, unless you’re experienced with other fabrics. Buy quality quilting thread. Trust me, your machine will thank you for not clogging it up with lint from that cheap stuff. I swear by Arufil Mako these days.
Each block will be 12 x 12 inches finished, but I’d recommend using a 14 x 14 block to give yourself room on positioning. After you’ve done the appliqué, you can cut it down to 12.5 x 12.5 inches (which will make a 12 x 12 finished block). Once all the blocks are done, you can add borders and sashing to make a blanket-sized quilt.
Enough of the introduction. Let’s get quilting!
Here is the January Block Pattern. Download the file and print it. I’ve included versions both with and without seam allowance. Feel free to make your own geeky embellishments and twists. If you use this pattern, we’d love to see what you made. Leave a comment on this post or send us a message through Facebook or Twitter.
I went ahead and added a few more layers of metallic colors for some more texture. I also took some gears from the Bag of Gears and glued them onto the knobs on the side. What’s more steampunk than a gear that serves no apparent purpose?
Now it’s time to tackle the straps and bridge. The goggles came with an elastic strap and plastic covered metal chain bridge. That’s not terribly Victorian. I’ve got a bag of scrap leather, though you could use faux leather, canvas, or other fabric for this. I started by cutting a thick rectangle slightly larger than the existing bridge piece and notching it on either side.
Next, I flipped the leather over, rough side up, and tacked the center down using Fabri-Tac. The end result should look something like a sideways letter I.
You’re going to take the finished strap and feed it through the notches on the sides with the glued portion pointed toward the inside. That’s going to make your bridge, and the thicker portions of the “I” shape will hold the bridge in place. Don’t worry if it looks ugly on the inside, nobody is going to see it once you screw the dark lenses back on. If it really bothers you, you can glue it down on the inside, but this isn’t structurally necessary.
Next, it’s time for the straps. When you disassembled the goggles, you should have saved and Rub ‘n Buffed the existing plastic buckles. You can use the old elastic strap as a template for the length and width of your leather (or canvas or faux leather, depending on what you decide to use). If you use scrap leather, you’ll want to thread your leather through so that the buckles actually adjust on the inside of the goggles. That way you can hide the rough side of the leather.
Don’t forget to put the side buttons and gears back on. You should also double check that your Rub ‘n Buff has completely cured and that you’ve rubbed off any excess (otherwise they’ll double as practical joke goggles when you try wearing them and end up covered in silver paint.) Once you’ve done that, your goggles are suitable for wearing or mounting to your favorite Victorian-style hat.
When I pre-ordered my Kindle Fire, I also pre-ordered the Verso Prologue case cover pictured in the center of this photo. When it arrived, my husband immediately wanted a Kindle Fire, not because he was a huge Fire fan, but because the case was so cool. It instantly turns your Fire into a steampunk costume accessory. What’s not to love about that?
The Verso Prologue is a simple leather case that opens just like a book, and the Kindle Fire or Touch is held in place with elastic on the corners. The positon of the elastic means it works with a lot of devices. It won’t work with every device, so be sure to check the specifics on your device. It works great with the old Galaxy Tab, but the new Galaxy Tab 7+ does not work. I’ve tried. The elastic hits the volume button.
I visited with Lightwedge, the company that makes the Verso covers at a recent press event, and I got to preview their new line. It should be out by “back to school” time, so sometime probably in the summer. I can’t wait. They’ve added larger sizes, so iPad and larger Android tablet fans should jump for joy here. I know I am.
They’ve also added this very cool Victorian marbled paper look, one of which is pictured above in iPad size. I really wanted to just buy one on the spot, but apparently they’re sending them back to the manufacturer to get a better texture on them before they start mass production.
The whole idea of book-like covers for tablets is just super appealing. If you can’t wait for Verso, there’s the Twelve South BookBook series of cases, which also have side protection. Even more fun, you can follow these instructions to make your own iPad case. I think I may have to do that for a few of my tablets. They deserve some geeky cover love.
In September I attended a steampunk convivial in my home town, naturally this required creating a steampunk costume. For someone whose sewing experience at the point of buying my ticket consisted of reattaching a few buttons to shirts, that was a pretty daunting prospect.
Thanks to YouTube, Threadbanger and a lot of time on Google, I eventually managed to create a costume that looked pretty good, despite my lack of skills with fabric and thread.