Category Archives: Steampunk

Meet the Fictorians: Kim May

“Come in, — come in! and know me better, man!” -Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

We’d love for you, our wonderful readers, to get to know us better. That’s why, each month, Kristin Luna will interview a member of The Fictorians. We’ll learn more about each member, such as their writing processes, their work, where they live, and what they prefer to drink on a crisp Fall day. We hope you enjoy this monthly installment of Meet the Fictorians.

Meet the Fictorians:

Kim May

Kristin Luna (KL): Hi Kim! How are you doing and what are you drinking?

Kim May (KM): Nothing exciting. Just water.

KL: If you don’t mind me sharing, you live in the beautiful state of Oregon. Do you like living there, and do you find that it influences settings in your stories?

KM: It definitely does. Oregon has very diverse terrain which makes setting research much easier. I think tundra and tropical rain forest are all we’re missing. Plus there’s fun historical sites like the Shanghai Tunnels (which I did set a story in) and places so full of enchantment that it’s not hard to imagine fairies flitting between the firs.

KL: Besides blogging for The Fictorians, you have your own successful blog Ninja Keyboard. Tell us about it!

KMNinja Keyboard is where I post updates what I’m up to, new release announcements, general thoughts on the industry or a movie, or anything else I feel a burning need to talk about. I try to keep it all about me and my work. You’ll never see a political rant or religious treatise on my blog.

KL: You’ve been published numerous times in Fiction River. Tell about your stories and how we can purchase Fiction River.

KM: Fiction River is a bi-monthly short story magazine published by WMG Publishing. Each issue has a different editor and different theme that can be anything from historical mystery or thrillers to sci-fi and steampunk. There’s something for everyone! It’s a lot of fun writing so many different genres and it’s definitely expanded my capabilities as a writer. Before I got involved with Fiction River I never thought I could write anything other than sci-fi and fantasy. Now I can say that I have published stories of four different genres.

Another great thing about Fiction River is because they’re published like books, none of the back issues have gone out of print! They’re available for purchase online on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and on the Fiction River and WMG websites. Reader’s Guide and Powell’s stores in Oregon have print copies of the issues I’m in on hand as well.

KL: Of your short stories published, which one is your favorite and why?

KM: Gosh! That’s like picking a favorite chocolate bar! I love all of them for different reasons. I love Blood Moon Carnival because that’s the story I channeled my grief for my 19 year old cat into. (She died the day I finished it.) I love Void around the Sword’s Edge because it’s my action packed “stripper saves the world” story. Moonshine is a tribute to my favorite grandmother. The Fukuda Cube was my first RPG tie-in story, and it was by far the most challenging to write. In Keep Portland Weird I got to do an ode to Pacific Rim in Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter universe. In When A Good Fox Goes To War I got to play in feudal Japan, and Schrodinger’s Bar has my coolest ending!

KL: All of those sound really fun and interesting! Are you working on any longer fiction right now?

KM: I am! I’m finishing up two novels. The first is a new adult contemporary fantasy that I’m going to indie publish sometime next year and the other is a techno-thriller I’m going to pitch around.

KL: What are some of your writing goals for 2017?

KM: I just want to survive 2017. I’ve got three short stories and a novel coming out next year…and that’s just what’s on my publishing schedule right now. I’d also like to write the sequel to the new adult book I mentioned earlier. That’s all in addition to working a full-time day job and managing my arthritis, which are exhausting by themselves.

KL: What’s some of the best writing advice you’ve received so far?

KM: This is something I’ve talked about on this blog and on my own. It’s WTFS. Write the (bleep) sentence. I used to spend so much time agonizing on what the perfect phrasing would be or if description A was better than description B. I needed to understand that a first draft is just that: the first of many drafts. It doesn’t need to be perfect right away. It’s better to put something, anything, on the page and fix it later.

KL: What writers are most influential to you and why?

KM: Anne McCaffrey, Brandon Sanderson, Jacqueline Carey, Peter S Beagle, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Patrick Rothfuss are my favorite storytellers. I easily get lost in the worlds they’ve created. Choose Your Own Adventure books were pretty influential too. As a kid I read each of them three or four times. The first time I’d find the ending I liked best and then backtrack to find the path I had to follow to get there. After reading it that way I’d re-read it to find out why the other paths ended the way they did.

KL: What is your favorite Fictorians post so far?

KM: My first post is my favorite: Stockholm Syndrome Barbie. It’s a slice of me with a cherry on top. Stockholm Syndrome Barbie – The Fictorians.

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If you have any questions for Kim, please leave a comment below. Thank you for reading!

Meet the Fictorians: Ace Jordyn

“Come in, — come in! and know me better, man!” -Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

We’d love for you, our wonderful readers, to get to know us better. That’s why, each month, Kristin Luna will interview a member of The Fictorians. We’ll learn more about each member, such as their writing processes, their work, where they live, and what they prefer to drink on a warm summer’s day. We hope you enjoy this monthly installment of Meet the Fictorians.

Meet the Fictorians:

Ace Jordyn

Kristin Luna (KL): Hi Ace! How are you doing and what are you drinking?

Ace Jordan (AJ): Hi Kristin! I’m still waking up! It’s 7 a.m. and this is my prime writing time. I’m drinking a green rooibos tea called Sea Buckthorn Green. Its aroma is earthy and it has a delicate taste of macadamia nuts and sea buckthorn berries with a smooth hint of cream and caramel.

KL: You’ve done some pretty exciting traveling lately. Tell us more about that!

AJ: This summer’s main adventure was to northern Saskatchewan to a cabin in the woods. It was fun and busy with a family reunion and seeing many old friends. It’s just remote enough that you have to drive a couple kilometers out to get a cell signal for the phone and internet service doesn’t exist. There are landlines and electricity but otherwise, it’s pretty laid back.

KL: That sounds wonderful! Do you often travel? And do your travels find their way into your work?

AJ: My travels always get into my stories one way or another. For example, I’ve been to Morocco twice and what strikes me every time I’m there is how a civilization has flourished in such a harsh environment. That harsh environment is a setting in a novel. The island of Crete, with all its ancient Minoan sites has inspired a series set 4,000 years ago. I like to take history, or a historical site, and twist it into a fantasy which isn’t necessarily historically accurate. New places are jumping off points. And that can happen in the back yard too like with a rock in a creek which inspired a trilogy. I wanted to know where that rock came from, its journey from the Rocky Mountains, and why it was so important. When I asked those questions, I discovered a whole new world I’d have never imagined otherwise.

The cool thing about being in a new culture where I don’t know the language and the customs, is a sense of being alien, not fitting in. That always puts me in a position of child-like wonder about the surroundings. Also, it reminds me, as a writer, not to take things for granted, especially value systems, cultural norms, and daily life issues. It reminds me not to impose my values and reactions on characters – they must react and be authentic to their world, which usually conflicts with how I live and perceive my own life. Here’s a post about this experience.

KL: I’d love to travel to Morocco. Maybe someday I will! So what are you working on right now?

AJ: Right now I’m working on two projects (maybe more, and that depends on the day). I’m back to world building for a steampunkish fantasy novel. Here’s my process: I get a flicker of an idea and I write it down. I do some character building. I write the first few chapters to get a feel for the story. I sketch an outline, then do more character work. For this novel, I decided that a female protagonist would work better than a male protagonist so I rewrote the first chapters. Now, I’m doing a little more world building. I find that if I nail the character and world details at the start, it sets the tone and the rest of the novel writes itself.

I’m also writing short stories. New fables and folk tales for children. I just had one (When Phakack Came to Steal Papa, a Ti-Jean Story) accepted for Volume 27 No 4 by On Spec, The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic. Here, I twisted up history and fantasy in a Canadian context.

KL: Where can we find and buy your work?

AJ: I coedited Shanghai Steam Anthology. It is recommended reading in Orson Scott Card’s book Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-This-World Novels and Short Stories.

I also have an independently published middle grade book Painted Problems which deals with the impact graffiti has on a community.

When Phakack Came to Steal Papa, a Ti-Jean Story can be obtained through On Spec next month.

As for my other novels and short stories, they’re being subbed to traditional publishers. My reason for doing this rather than self-publishing is because of distribution. My target market is middle grade and YA. Traditional publishers have access to a distribution system that I can’t access on my own.

KL: What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

AJ: My favorite thing is whatever I’m currently working on. How can it not be? If I don’t love it, it won’t be written.

KL: From what I understand, you’ve been in the Fictorians from the beginning. Were you one of the first?

AJ: Yes. I attended the first Superstars Seminar and it was a great experience not only for the instruction we received but also for the people I met. As we got to know each other, we realized that we all wanted a web presence but weren’t necessarily ready to have our own website. But most importantly, we wanted to provide meaningful information, to share our experiences and knowledge so that others could benefit from what we’ve learned. So we formed the Fictorians and it’s been a wonderful experience for us and hopefully for our readers too.

KL: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

AJ: Hmmm …. There has been lots of advice, but the best one, the earliest one ever was receiving permission to be mean to my characters. I didn’t have to be nice – isn’t that what we’re taught as kids, to play nice? But as a writer, I don’t have to be nice. It’s better if I’m not. Characters need to struggle, they need to make mistakes, and they need to take readers on a journey that hits the all the emotional points.

KL: What advice would you give to a new writer?

AJTake your time and write a lot. Don’t be in a rush to publish (self or traditional) your first novel or short story. By all means, do so if you want for some have had great success in doing that. Most of us don’t. I think what’s important for all writers is to find their storytelling voice. That takes time and refinement of the craft. Here’s my story with this: I couldn’t write a short story. The form eluded me forever. Anything I tried always sounded like a long pitch for a novel. After six or seven novels, short story writing clicked. Why? Because I had found my voice. I had discovered my passion, or niche as some would call it. And that passion is for folk tales and fables. Finding your voice does wonderful things – that’s how the Ti-Jean story got written and it’s the first ever fable published by On Spec.

My novels incidentally, aren’t folk tales or fables – they’re a tidbit of history with a fantasy twist. So I guess that means I have two writing voices.

KL: Great advice. And finally, what’s your favorite Fictorians post that you’ve written so far?

AJ: My favorite is the one I wrote about using Maslow’s Hierarchy to write pitches and get to the heart/moral premise of a story. Discovering that I could use Maslow in that way was astounding and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a tool that can be used when you’re trying to write a pitch or when brainstorming a new story and you need to nail down the moral premise. I refer to that post a lot.

Thanks for this opportunity to chat with you, Kristin. I wish you and all our readers many great inspired moments!

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If you have any questions for Ace, please leave a comment below. Thank you for reading!

Mashing Up the Wild West

If you’re of a certain age in the U.S., you were raised with Westerns. John Ford and Sergio Leone filled cinemas and TV screens with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, the dust of cattle drives, the thunder of cavalry, guns, and the war whoops of Indians. By the time of my childhood, Western films were in their declining years, covering ground so well-trodden the genre itself had become cliché, a collection of easily recognizable and increasingly tired tropes.

However, the genre never quite made it to the grave. Since the Western film’s heyday, we’ve been graced with some spectacularly good fare: Tombstone, Unforgiven, Tarantino’s Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, the remake of True Grit, the HBO series Deadwood, and Dances with Wolves.

The things that these examples do exceedingly well, and I would submit to you, the reason they’re so damn good, is that they take the tropes and twist them. Unforgiven puts an unforgettable twist on the Hired Gunfighter. Tarantino’s characters are nearly all recognizable archetypes—except they’ve been subverted or twisted in unexpected ways. The Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit takes Charles Portis’ brilliant novel and puts little Maddie Ross squarely back in the protagonist’s seat. Deadwood so brims with fascinating characters, crackling dialogue, and Shakespearean tragedy that its cancellation after only three seasons is one of the great travesties of modern television. Dances with Wolves, with its sweeping grandeur, epic depth, and visionary cinematography, is credited with revitalizing the Western film, and it does so by turning the tables on the Indian Wars. Without this film, none of the others might ever have been made.

But just how far can you twist the tropes? Can you have a science-fiction Western? A horror Western? A fantasy Western? Absolutely. Mix in any of these ingredients and you have what has come to be called The Weird Western.

The earliest sci-fi western mash-up that comes to mind is Westworld, complete with android gunfighters. Another notable is Back to the Future Part III, which nowadays we might call a little steampunk. The Wild West is a favorite milieu for steampunk authors, forming their own sub-genre of Western mash-up, including the Fictorians’ own Quincy J. Allen. Are there other SF-Western examples? Sure, but we won’t talk about Cowboys and Aliens.

Horror is a spice that mashes up tastily with Western stories. The Old West is replete with ghost tales and Native American mysticism. Murder, injustice, and brutality abound, all fodder for stories of the unquiet dead. Haunted trains, phantom stage coaches, vengeful medicine men, ancient knowledge from the dark depths of human history… are your creative juices flowing yet?

So the first step to a good mash-up is to recognize the tropes. You have to understand the nuts and bolts of a genre and how they fit together into the moving parts of the story. Throw in the things you love, the things you want to write about. A sprinkle of vampire saliva, a touch of decomposing zombie, a love story between a man and his raw meat, an angry deceased mother-in-law.

Twist and subvert the tropes into interesting new shapes. Take the Town Marshal archetype and do something with him you’ve never seen before, something interesting, something fun, something unexpected. In Death Wind, we made the Town Marshall an old man, too stubborn and grumpy to admit he’s forty years past his prime.

This kind of subversion is not new. Even in the 19th Century, the Western genre had become staid and cliché. The profusion of dime novels and penny dreadfuls had already created the tropes and archetypes we know today. In 1898 Stephen Crane, author of the Red Badge of Courage, wrote a brilliant subversion of the Western in his short story “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” in which he plays with tropes like the Town Drunk, Town Marshal, and The Shootout with great insight and cleverness. The key to any good mash-up is play. Jam things together to see what works, what sounds fun.

Death Wind CoverA few years back, my friend Jim Pinto and I decided to collaborate on a screenplay. We wanted to do something neither of us had ever seen before, so we decided to mash up two genres we loved: horror and Westerns. But how to make it different from other notable horror Westerns around, such as The Burrowers and Ravenous? We threw in another ingredient we both loved: the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. And that’s when the fun really began. We were in undiscovered territory. Throwing together a collection of characters under-represented in Western fiction and film, we stirred them together into a juicy stew of crisscrossing conflicts and ended up with Death Wind, a screenplay that placed highly in several screenwriting contests, including Second Place at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival Cthulhu Con in L.A. and Grand Prize at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose in 2012.

After this success, it was a no-brainer to adapt the script into a novel. Death Wind will make its literary debut at Dragon Con 2016, published by WordFire Press.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6Spirit_cover_smallTravis Heermann’s latest novel Spirit of the Ronin, was published in June, 2015.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind (co-authored with Jim Pinto), The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Apex Magazine, Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He recently returned to the U.S. from New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and toting more Middle Earth souvenirs than is reasonable.

You can find him on…

Twitter
Facebook
Wattpad
Goodreads
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Website


Arabella of Mars – Regency Steampunk at Its Best!

An interview with David D. Levine.

David D. Levine’s debut novel ARABELLA OF MARS is a delightful novel set in the Regency Era with a science fiction/steampunk twist. It’s an adventure filled with airship battles in the solar system, romance, drama, broken hearts and bones, automata, forests on asteroids, and settlement on a life sustaining Mars replete with its own culture. The novel’s heroine is passionate, crafty, and above all engaging. ARABELLA OF MARS left me yearning for more time in this poignant world. In this interview, I asked David about his creation of Arabella’s world.

DDLevine-Arabella-Cover-LargeI liked that Arabella wasn’t a man in a woman’s body. Her sensibilities and problem solving for a woman of her status respected the conventions of the time period. But she wasn’t a Mary Sue either or a Miss Marple trying to solve a problem. She was smart, deceitful, worked alongside her male counterparts, yet in her private moments we saw the personal effect of her daring choices. She feels like you wrote about someone you admire. Can you tell us who Arabella is to you.

I know a lot of writers who refer to their projects by the main character’s name — for example, “I’m working on Alfreda all this month” — but I’m usually not one of those; I usually start with the worldbuilding and come up with a character who exists in that world second (or third, after the plot). Also, the main character’s name is usually subject to change right up to the last minute. But Arabella is different. She has been Arabella from the beginning and this project, which has grown from a standalone novel to a three-book series and might grow further, has always been called Arabella. She’s someone who fights her society’s strictures and lets nothing stand in her way, but is still vulnerable and somewhat naïve. I admire her and I feel protective of her, and this is something that’s never happened to me with any of my own creations before.

Mars is a new and exotic settlement where European colonization and commerce abound. Arabella’s father is a successful business man. Arabella loves growing up on Mars and she takes great interest in this world which includes romping around with her brother, learning the culture from her Martian nanny, and taking an interest in mechanical gadgets. Despite her aptitudes, her father decides to send her home back to conventional England. Can you tell us about her father, what motivates him and why, despite his pioneering attitude, he decides to send Arabella home?

Arabella’s father is much more conventional than his daughter. Although he loves all his children, Michael is his firstborn, his heir, and his only son, and as a man of his era he is more strongly attached to Michael than to Arabella. But he does love and support her, and — as someone who left his own home planet to seek his fortune — he admires her adventurous nature more than her mother’s conservative one. When Arabella’s mother puts her foot down and demands to take the children “home” to Earth — a planet they have never even visited — he would like to keep both Michael and Arabella with him, but feels compelled to compromise. This doesn’t appear on the page, but he never really reconciled himself to this decision, and the question of whether or not he did the right thing nagged him until he died.

Your world building is persuasive, yet deft in its execution. You pay homage to early steampunk while touching upon colonization, xenophobia, but you set it the Regency Era rather than in the traditional Victorian Era. What is it about this time period that excited you?

You can blame Patrick O’Brian, whose Napoleonic War novels combine historical accuracy, adventure, and wit. I’m a great fan of those novels and when I had the idea of an interplanetary adventure in a world where the solar system is full of air it wasn’t a hard decision to set it in that period. It was a time of exploration and adventure, when the wider world was known but not well-known, and when a talented man (and why not a woman as well?) could be a warrior, a scientist, an inventor, an artist, and a diplomat all at once. Also, Mary Robinette Kowal and Naomi Novik showed that there was demand within the SF&F field for stories set in that era.

I appreciated the restraint in your approach on the issues of colonization and xenophobia – they became elements in good story telling and steampunk world building. Arabella’s reactions show, rather than simply tell, the issues. Why was it important to address these issues?

We live in interesting times, and questions of what is right and wrong when dealing with other genders, races, and cultures — and, indeed, how these distinctions are defined or if they even exist — seem more contentious now than ever before. These questions apply with equal force to history. Knowing what we know now, should we consider Columbus a hero or a villain? I felt that it would be dishonest, even immoral, to write a novel that ignored these questions… but, at the same time, it had to be a rip-roaring adventure. I hope that I’ve succeeded with both those aspects.

Tall, dark and handsome, Captain Singh, captain of the airship Diana, has a commanding and professional presence despite being the strong, silent type. Can you tell us more about him, who he represents, and what inspired his character?

Captain Singh, like Arabella, is an outsider who has nonetheless achieved a degree of success within his society — but, because of his outsider status, may see what he has achieved taken away at any time. I wanted someone Arabella could look up to and be inspired by, yet also someone who might be a little intimidating until you get to know him. He’s also someone who, because of his unique perspective, is willing to take a chance on another outsider. I knew early on that he would be Indian, to amplify the echoes of India in my version of Mars, but his background and personal history changed frequently as the book developed.

Aadim, the clockwork navigator – I can’t let end this interview without knowing your inspiration for Aadim. Despite being silent (except for the sounds he makes when he receives information to calculate navigations), he feels like a very real, yet mysterious character and he’s almost creepy because his movements feel like human reactions. When I think about it, we attribute a lot to our devices and machines. Was your treatment of Aadim in this manner a comment on our relationship with our devices or was it about the possibilities the steampunk writers saw in this world?

He is, of course, inspired by the Mechanical Turk, a chess-playing automaton of the 1700s (which was, alas, a fraud with a person inside). Originally I thought that most ships in this world would have these automaton navigators, necessitated by the difficulties of navigating in three dimensions, but as the story grew I decided to make him unique. He also provides a bond between Arabella and Captain Singh, due to their shared interest in complex automata. I had a lot of fun making his actions and reactions ambiguous, right on the edge of the Uncanny Valley. Is he completely plausible, given the technology of the early 19th century? No, not really, but this is a fictional world after all.

Thank you very much for this opportunity! I’m glad you liked the book and I hope many more people do.

Thank you for a great interview David! ARABELLA OF MARS is now a favorite! If the interview wasn’t enough to convince you to get the book, dear reader, perhaps this blurb will: Arabella Ashby is a Patrick O’Brian girl in a Jane Austen world — born and raised on Mars, she was hauled back home by her mother, where she’s stifled by England’s gravity, climate, and attitudes toward women. When she learns that her evil cousin plans to kill her brother and inherit the family fortune, she joins the crew of an interplanetary clipper ship in order to beat him to Mars. But privateers, mutiny, and insurrection stand in her way. Will she arrive in time?

DDLevine-Portrait-LargeDavid D. Levine is the author of novel ARABELLA OF MARS (Tor 2016) and over fifty SF and fantasy stories. His story “Tk’Tk’Tk” won the Hugo Award, and he has been shortlisted for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, and Sturgeon. Stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, F&SF, Tor.com, and multiple Year’s Best anthologies as well as award-winning collection Space Magic from Wheatland Press. David is a contributor to George R. R. Martin’s bestselling shared-world series Wild Cards. He is also a member of publishing cooperative Book View Cafe and of nonprofit organization Oregon Science Fiction Conventions Inc. He has narrated podcasts for Escape Pod, PodCastle, and StarShipSofa, and his video Dr. Talon’s Letter to the Editor was a finalist for the Parsec Award. In 2010 he spent two weeks at a simulated Mars base in the Utah desert. David lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Kate Yule. His web site is www.daviddlevine.com.