Category Archives: Steampunk

Dueling Parasols and Creating a Steampunk World, Jayne Barnard Tells All

Welcome to my second interview with author Jayne Barnard and her steampunk novel MADDIE HATTER AND THE DEADLY DIAMOND.

In my previous interview with Jayne, Jayne Barnard on Maddie Hatter’s Steampunk Society, we spoke about Maddie’s life as a Steamlord’s daughter, the constraints Jayne and Eliahand attitudes of the Victorian era and how it affected Maddie’s quest for independence. Jayne’s historical accuracy made this steampunk novel very believable. Even the mechanical gadgets, like Tweedle Dee the mechanical bird who is Maddie’s companion, seem commonplace.

Today, we’ll learn more about how Jayne chose to create Maddie’s steampunk world, and about Steampunk’s fine sport of dueling with parasols.

Dueling parasols? It’s not in Maddie’s book, but I know you’re personally involved in this sport.
Victorian women’s lives were very much constrained by the clothing they wore and social rules of their class. Even more than in this age of internet slut-shaming, their behavior could be judged without mercy by their peers and, if their families were important, by the tabloid press. Their chances of marriage, the only career open to most of them, were dependent in large part on not attracting public notice. Thus they had to swallow a lot of subtly and overtly insulting behavior from other women who, because of their relative money and social power, did not need to be as well-behaved.

Men could settle combat by dueling with swords or pistols, by fisticuffs (aka boxing), by racing, or any other means they chose. They considered those means honourable, and a man who shirked, or who did not abide by the result, lost his honour. It was an outgrowth of the old trial by combat system. Parasol Dueling, a non-contact combat sport based on ranking parasol moves or ‘figures’, gave Steampunk women a means to settle insults rather than allow them to fester until the women broke out in mean-spirited or socially unacceptable behavior. Parasols allow for non-contact dueling that any two ladies may engage in at any place where a parasol might be carried.

Where can we learn more about dueling parasols?
Steampunks around the world now learn, practice, and occasionally duel with intent, but the World Championships are held annually in Calgary, where the sport originated. We’ve aligned with Beakerhead, that five-day festival where Arts & Sciences meet. Planning has just begun for next September’s Beakerhead, so I can’t give you details on that yet, but the Regional Championships are held during Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. Meanwhile, you can learn much more about the fictional and very real histories of Parasol Dueling at the Steampunk blog Gears, Goggles & Steam and on Facebook at Madame Saffron Hemlock’s Parasol Dueling League for Steampunk Ladies (hey, I didn’t give it that very long name!)

Fashion – that’s what I love about steampunk. You must have spent hours dreaming about the wardrobes, drawing them out and then finding just the right words to describe them so succinctly yet vividly. Can you tell us a bit about the process of creating your world of fashion?
Pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. That’s the short answer.

Steampunk fashion draws primarily from late Victorian style but interprets freely and is not as class-bound as it was in our history. Thanks be to Google for directing me to page after page of photos and discussions of original, preserved costumes as well as modern reproductions that are accurate in cut and – as much as possible – fabric down to the thread in the hand-stitched knickers. Before photography there were portraits, admittedly mostly of rich people, in which garments were thoroughly depicted. In Steampunk, I get to make my own fashion rules, and the rules governing Maddie Hatter’s fictional world are grounded in but not tightly bound by historical fashion.

Jayne - coverBut Maddie is a young woman skirting (pun not intended!) the precipice of the upper class and the middle class. How do her fashion choices reflect her chosen status?
Maddie’s clothing, as befits her modest lower-middle-class job, is fairly conservative in cut and colour. Browns and grays and blues instead of crimson, purple, and metallics. She sometimes yearns for the vivid and beautiful – and very well-tailored – gowns she used to wear when her father was footing the wardrobe bill. She retained a few good dresses from her Society life, but only those that could pass for a well-dressed journalist’s. They are now a few years out of date, which is good. Their age (in a fashion sense) demonstrates to the upper classes, on whom she reports, that she both understands good clothing and is not in competition with her supposed betters.

The upper classes assume Maddie bought her best dresses second- (or third-) hand, and don’t think less of her for that. Historically, lower classes wore clothing that was at least one full style-generation behind the upper classes; this was partly because employers often gave their out-of-style cast-offs to their servants as part of their wages and benefits (along with food and shelter), and partly due to a thriving trade in strongly-made second-hand clothing, which was often all the working classes could afford before widespread mass-production of clothing (imagine finding one of Jackie Kennedy’s or Princess Diana’s gowns in a consignment store).

Much of my research, and my fascination to date, has been in English fashion; however I will be exploring some other countries’ and other cultures’ fashions in future Maddie adventures.

OReilly 2The world you created includes homage to only one historical personage, Mr. Flinders Petrie. Why him?
I have great respect for history, and for humans whose deeds were sufficiently great to be recorded for posterity. The only truly historical personage mentioned in the Deadly Diamond is Mr. Flinders Petrie, one of the most respected of European Egyptologists, who was working in Egypt during the real-life period covered by our alternate-history. Mr. Petrie is generally credited with curtailing the wholesale upheaval of archaeological sites in search of treasures, and with ushering in a new standard for the recording and preservation of Egyptian antiquities. Without him, the history of Egypt would be far less complete. But, in a novella, there’s not a lot of room to be true to the known facts and foibles of historical individuals – or not as true as I would prefer to be – and thus Mr. Petrie alone gets his name on the page, as a mark of my respect for a man who changed history.

To the best of my ability, though, I accurately recreated the ranks of the various military personnel, the colonial structure of the British Protectorate in Egypt, even the dining room of Shepheard’s Hotel Anglaise in Cairo as it looked in 1898. It’s a world one technological tweak separated from our own.

So then your decision not to write an alternate history by including real people was deliberate. What aspects of the society did you focus on?
Because English-language Steampunk is almost entirely based in the manners and social structures of the late Victorian era, Queen Victoria is there by implication. Like monarchs before and after her, she gave peerages to industrialists who revolutionized the country’s economy. The Steamlords, my fictional class of peers, were first granted peerages around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, when steam power was just beginning to be harnessed for industrial and military purposes. These technological trail-blazers naturally made fortunes licensing and exporting their steam technologies, and gained power and prominence quickly as the 19th century Industrial Revolution unfolded….much to the dismay of those families traditionally close to the reins of power in England.

That concludes our interview, but if you’d like to read MADDIE HATTER AND THE DEADLY DIAMOND and see what other people have said about it, you can find it at Amazon and Tyche Books, and there are reviews on Goodreads.


Jayne from steamconJayne Barnard is a founding member of Madame Saffron’s Parasol Dueling League for Steampunk Ladies and a longtime crime writer. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines. Awards for short fiction range from the 1990 Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for PRINCESS ALEX AND THE DRAGON DEAL to the 2011 Bony Pete for EACH CANADIAN SON. She’s been shortlisted for both the Unhanged Arthur in Canada and the Debut Dagger in the UK. You can visit her at her blog or on Facebook.

Jayne Barnard on Maddie Hatter’s Steampunk Society

An interview with author Jayne Barnard.

Jayne - coverMystery writer and steampunk aficionado Jayne Barnard has written a smashing novella, MADDIE HATTER AND THE DEADLY DIAMOND. The novella is fun and the world Jayne created is fascinating. Steampunk, if done right, feels like a period in history that we should have studied in school and where Jayne’s book is compulsory reading. For all these reasons, I had to interview Jayne.

We had so much to talk about however, that you’ll have to read the second part of the interview Dueling Parasols and Creating a Steampunk World, Jayne Barnard Tells All to learn why Jayne chose to pay homage to certain personalities, her steampunk fashion choices and about the sport of dueling parasols!

Being a Steamlord’s daughter must be oppressive because Maddie vies to stay out from under her father’s thumb. Her class status, though, gives her insights (and privileges) into the upper echelons of society which are delightful for the reader to see. What is it like to be a Steamlord’s daughter and why does Maddie wish herself to be so independent from it?
Maddie Hatter comes from one of the three earliest Steamlord families. Her great-grandfather invented a mechanism that allowed steam power to be used for a much wider variety of purposes than before. The family’s wealth is almost beyond counting; they live in a vast subterranean mansion, have servants for every possible task, and travel everywhere by private luxury airships. They’re the 1% of their era. But a peerage only four generations old is barely a blip to English aristocrats who can trace their lineage back to the Norman Conquest. The Steamlords want to improve their family trees by marrying into the Old Nobility, which is lineage-rich but often cash-poor.

That’s the pressure Maddie is escaping: to be handed off, along with a well-padded dowry, to some family even more restrictive than hers, and spend the rest of her life taking tea with her mother-in-law and bear children for some inbred aristocratic fop, all so her father can fulfill his inherited duty to advance the family’s social and political power. Maddie is a girl of spirit and independence, not about to tamely submit to having her whole life decided for her before she’s twenty.

It must have been hard for Maddie to leave home and learn to fend for herself but she can’t seem to make a complete break. Why is making a complete break hard for her?
Since fleeing her home, Maddie has had to learn to do things for herself that a girl of any lesser family would have learned at a much younger age: to dress herself, care for her own clothing, organize her own meals, and most especially to earn her own living. She managed for two years on her own, and now has made a sort of peace with her family, becoming a female variant of the remittance man. That adventurous breed historically – often reckless younger sons who embarrassed their family once too often – was sent abroad to live or die as they chose. Their families paid an allowance on condition they stayed away and kept the family name clear of scandal. As a woman, Maddie’s not paid well for her work. Her father’s allowance is all that she will be able to save toward someday buying a home, or for her eventual retirement. A little older and wiser now since venturing on her own, Maddie knows that she can’t realistically make a complete break until she is earning enough to fund her future life as well as her current adventures.

The gadgets: mechanical birdie, airships, coffee service – you’ve got a wonderful smattering of them which makes Maddie’s world very interesting. Her little mechanical bird, Tweetle-D, who so delightfully inks things he’s seen, who is Maddie’s spy and is so helpful to her job. What inspired you to create him, and why him instead of a human helper?
Steampunk runs on clockworks, the brassier the better. To create the gadgets in Maddie’s world, I needed to only look around at daily activities and think: if this world were operating by a combination of steam power and clockwork controls, how could – for example – making and serving tea be done? As for the mechanical bird Tweetle-D, or TD as he is more often called, he is small, mostly quiet, but quite a personality for all that. He serves as a confidant for Maddie while she is cut off from family (by her own choosing) and from friends (by her assignment in Egypt). While he can’t fly far on his own, he travels well by airship, train, river-steamship or even by camel if necessary, and with far less fuss and bother than a living animal companion would require. And he’s got mad skills in note-taking and picture-taking, both essentials for a young lady trying to make her way as an investigative journalist.

Maddie is precocious, very liberated and besides needing to keep her true identity secret, she’s fighting for a place in a man’s world of crime reporting. She’s strong, as are all the female characters in this world. Is this historically accurate?
This story is historically accurate in the sense that young women ‘of good family’ who grew up in the late Victorian era were finally breaking out of the wife-governess-nun straitjacket, entering the workforce as shopgirls, office workers, nurses, authors, mathematicians, professors, and yes, as reporters. Maddie’s story is partly inspired by the barrier-breaking American journalist, Nellie Bly, who in the 1880s tackled a great many stories outside her early purview of fashion and society gossip. She not only went undercover (as Maddie also did) in pursuit of stories – most notably as an inmate in an insane asylum – but she set the record for getting around the world in under 80 days. As an inspiration for a young lady journalist, she’d be hard to beat. But then, this story is also inspired by the true story of a British colonial officer who stole a fabulous diamond ‘eye’ from a temple in India.

Less historically accurate but equally inspiring were the stories written by Jules Verne or H.G. Wells, the Indiana Jones and Young Indiana Jones movies, and my wonderfully imaginative friends in the Steampunk community in Calgary.

It’s as if the women have found a way to do what’s important and be themselves despite the obstacles. Is this story a social commentary?
This is first and foremost an entertaining story of one young woman taking on the world.

As for social commentary, women in the West have continuously struggled to take and keep control of our own financial security despite the political, social, religious, and economic barriers thrown up in front of us, our mothers, our grandmothers, and our daughters. More than a century after Maddie and Nellie Bly, women have still not achieved the grail of equal pay for equal work, except in unionized workplaces. Despite women outperforming men academically in sciences and mathematics, there are still glass ceilings and male-dominated industries and professions. The internet shames women relentlessly for sexual conduct (including for reporting rape or assault) as much as any Victorian society matron would, and threatens women’s lives for speaking up in some perceived male bastion (Gamergate, anyone?). Just recently, the female premier of Alberta was threatened with assassination by men who disagreed with her politics.

I didn’t set out to write a feminist fiction but the element most fantastical of all in Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond may be that the women all found a way to do what’s important and be themselves despite the obstacles, and nobody threatened – or tried – to kill them for it.

That concludes this part of our interview. If you’d like to read MADDIE HATTER AND THE DEADLY DIAMOND and see what other people have said about it, you can find it at Amazon and Tyche Books, and there are reviews on Goodreads.

Be sure to check out Dueling Parasols and Creating a Steampunk World, Jayne Barnard Tells All  – you don’t want to miss out on dueling parasols!

 
Jayne from steamconJayne Barnard is a founding member of Madame Saffron’s Parasol Dueling League for Steampunk Ladies and a longtime crime writer. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines. Awards for short fiction range from the 1990 Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for PRINCESS ALEX AND THE DRAGON DEAL to the 2011 Bony Pete for EACH CANADIAN SON. She’s been shortlisted for both the Unhanged Arthur in Canada and the Debut Dagger in the UK. You can visit her at her blog or on Facebook.

Writing About Writing

A guest post by Brent Nichols

(And if you think that’s hard, I had to write about writing about writing)

We write. It’s what we do. Fiction, mostly, and if we’re lucky we have readers. It’s when we don’t have readers, or we want more, that we sometimes have to resort to writing of a different sort.

Fiction comes more or less naturally to me. My head’s full to bursting with imaginary characters, and sometimes I let them out to play on the page. It hardly seems like work, most days. The sense of work comes when I’m doing the other kind of writing. You know, the tedious reality-based kind. Especially when I face the tricky problem of writing about my own writing. But every so often, if I’m lucky, even non-fiction writing – even thorny non-fiction writing about my own fiction – manages not to be work. It even manages to be fun.

bdbfullserialA couple of years ago some entrepreneurs approached me, wanting to feature some of my self-published steampunk fiction on a new website they were launching. I was happy to agree – until they told me they wanted a couple of blog posts to go with it.

Having already sweated through the ordeal of making blurbs for the stories in question, the last thing I wanted to do was write even more about my work. However, being a sucker for direct appeals to my ego (hence my appearance on Fictiorians), I reluctantly agreed.

But what could I tell the average web-browsing reader about my work that would make them keen on picking up my stories?

I decided to write about the reasons I wrote steampunk fiction. Now, there are many reasons I turned my mad keyboarding skills to that particular sub-genre. Laziness in high on the list. Steampunk offers the cool gadgets that make science fiction fun without the tiresome need in most science fiction to be sure your gadgets would actually work. It offers the entertaining trappings of the nineteenth century, but being an alternate history, it spares the efficiency-minded writer all that pesky research. In a world where Queen Victoria commands a flying navy, most anything goes.

Sloth on my part, however, hardly seemed like a selling point to my droves of potential fans. So I dug deeper. I wanted a blog post that came alive for the reader, and I found myself thinking back to a time when I felt that spark myself, that shiver of excitement that came along all unexpected and made me, suddenly and for the first time in years, excited again about writing.

I was floundering in the doldrums of discouragement, the dream of writing like a faded picture of something I could remember being keen about, when I decided to attend the first ever When Words Collide festival. That was where I encountered a call for submissions to Shanghai Steam, an anthology of steampunk/wuxia fiction.

Just like that, my perspective on writing changed. All the eager excitement of my teenage self came flooding back. That call for submissions had two things going for it: It was cool (I mean, come on! Kung Fu action and steampunk? Who can resist that?) and it was specific. There were exact requirements, down to word count and cultural influences. I could stop floundering around and tackle a sparkling world of possibilities with a clear framework to guide me.

This, I realized, was the essence of what I needed for my blog post. Why did I write steampunk? Because it’s so damn cool. And how would I communicate that thrill to my readers? By being specific.

After that, the blog post seemed to write itself. I wrote about nineteenth-century technology, the glory days when the most wonderful machine you could imagine was still accessible to a clever person, something you could take apart and tinker with in your basement. A time when the world was enormous and exotic and full of unmapped corners. And a genre that said, never mind exactly how it actually was. What if? What if, in addition to all the grubby bits, there were airships and walking robots and clockwork birds? What if we took an entire genre and said, never mind that it won’t quite pass a rigorous historical or scientific examination? It’s marginally plausible and it’s cool, and that’s justification enough.

We don’t have Barsoom anymore. We lost Tarzan, too. We know too much about Mars and Africa and the universe for those grand adventures to survive. But we have steampunk, and it’s awesome.

That’s how you write about your writing. You look past all the details you’ve been buried in. You dig deep and look for that buried gem of excitement that got you started on the story in the first place. If you can communicate your excitement, readers will be excited to read what you created.

I sent the blog post off, and then I forgot all about the blog and the website. I was too busy to give it another thought. Because the post had the same effect on me that I wanted it to have on every reader – it made me want to drop everything and go read some steampunk.

 
Brent Nichols is a science fiction and fantasy writer, book cover designer, andBrent Nichols man about town. He likes good beer, bad puns, high adventure, and low comedy. A native Calgarian, he is a member of the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association and is the author of the War of the Necromancer series of sword and sorcery novels (available at a fine ebook retailer near you). See his book cover designs at www.coolseriescovers.com or visit his website atwww.steampunch.com.