Friday: Steampunk World: Steampunk Color!

Greetings, Steampunk Enthusiasts and the Steampunk-Curious!

Now that I’ve gotten the hello out of the way, I promise to avoid abusing the word “Steampunk” in this post.
My favorite genre is fraught with the aesthetic of times bygone, but with the typical tinge of sepia that comes from fashion photos once black and white now aged. The irony in our brass, brown and black style is that the Victorians had a particular obsession with unique patterns and colors. The synthesis of dyes was becoming easier with industrialization, and the Victorians just had a general flare for style.

You can read the history of dyes in depth if you want, but suffice it to say that in the late 1850s, some great accidental discoveries by William Henry Perkin created a myriad of new color availabilities in clothing. Reds! Blues! Fuschia! Mauve! All kinds of brilliant eyesores!

And they didn’t restrain themselves to beautiful clothing. The Victorians also enjoyed bright, colorful, patterned home decor

Thanks to Queen Victoria, the white wedding dress became popular in this era. Previously white was considered a mourning color, but she threw that tradition (like many others) to the wind. Now black was considered an austere and serious color, reserved for men with little imagination.

 Add to their adoration of color their adoration of paisley, stripes, brocades, and fine embroidery, and you have a whirlwind of options to flaunt. This Age of Steam article has more on the subject. Naturally, I don’t expect you to go out and nerfpunk. However, here are a few interesting ideas to spice up or color your attire.

If you’re just starting out, try shopping your local secondhand or thrift shops for 1970s shirts and blouses–especially the silk women’s blouses. They tend to have flamboyant collars and come in bright gaudy colors that would have thrilled the Victorians. I also acquired my favorite pair of glorious maroon pants (in proper carpetbag paisley) by shopping in a 70s men’s section. The 70s era has some throwbacks to the Victorian aesthetic that looked terrible in context, but great when added to a modified Steampunk costume.

There I go, using that word again.

If you want to be more punk than Steam, try painting your accessories and pick clothing colors to match. Also, keep in mind that while brass is lovely, the Victorians were obsessed with aluminum. Consider jewelry or paint tones that look like that alloy we all know so well.

Remember, you don’t have to stick to Victorian England! The Americans out west had a tendency to mismatch because the only fashion they received were castoffs from their cousins in England–this includes wearing stripes and paisleys together.

When people incorporate the reality of fashion with the surreality of science, that’s when Steampunk happens. Have fun, get your hands dirty, and stay fancy!

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Wednesday: Phoenix Comicon Convention Report

So, for the next couple of weeks–due to my adventures coming up–Wednesday will be devoted to convention reports.

This past weekend I was at Phoenix Comicon, which is both reportedly the only Comic Con that drops a C, and also reportedly was rather small until only a couple of years ago. This year there were around 46,000 people (their count) turning the styles to make it in. At those kinds of numbers they couldn’t really even keep track of whether people had badges in the panel rooms, so who knows how many actually paid to get in.

Based on the sheer amount of (redundant, in a lot of cases) programming, we only had a few things we specifically wanted to see. We drove the 13 hours overnight starting Thursday around 5pm. On Friday we met up with the Arizona Steampunks at their Steampunk 101 panel. We hadn’t slept yet, so I probably hallucinated about half of that panel, but it gave me some diabolical mod plans for later this year.

We spoke with Jason and Dianne(sp) about doing a sistership with the Wild Wild West Con–we tend to have more guests than they do, and we have different philosophies, but I think our audiences would appreciate each other.

On Friday afternoon I got to hear Nichelle Nichols (Uhura from ST:TOS) speak. She’s a hilarious spitfire even at 83. One person asked her a question about her stance on gay marriage. I admired her ability to answer in such a way that everyone would believe she agreed with them regardless of their stance–one can’t be too careful I suppose. I know from following Takei that she’s actually very supportive of equality. Makes sense, she WAS the first Black Woman on television.

I do contend that “first interracial kiss” with Kirk though. I just rewatched TOS and she kissed Spock in episode 3 (might have been episode 2), before she even officially met the captain.

Friday night we managed to pass out for like 9 hours, thank goodness. Saturday morning was quieter than I expected, but still hectic.

On Saturday Afternoon I was at an Author Chair Dancing event. It was supposed to be like Twitter live–Delilah S. Dawson, Sam Sykes, John Scalzi, Kevin Hearne and Leanne Renee Hieber. It was a hilariously good time. I finally got to meet Delilah by harassing her at her table later.

This year the PCC folks were hosting the bulk of the Babylon 5 cast for the Bab5 20th anniversary. I’ve met Claudia Christian before, and technically Robin Atkin Downes and Pat Tallman as well (previous Starfests when Bab5 was still running). It was still really cool to see most of the cast on stage Saturday night.

Sunday was quieter. We were mostly just interested in seeing the Lantern City preview panel. Unfortunately, Bruce Boxleitner couldn’t make it. We also found out it won’t be premiering for a couple more years. But the panel was still awesome.

I also attended a panel by the Apocalypse Girls on “con saturation.” Apparently Arizona has dozens of cons as opposed to Denver’s 8 or 9 cons. The giant nature of PCC (due in part to San Diego Comic Con influence, I am sure) has also made it difficult for many people to really get to know the less huge authors/artists/etc. The twitter flurry afterward from some of my favorite web comic artists somewhat follows the same thoughts.

Ultimately, I hope AnomalyCon can draw big crowds some day…but it’s important for us to keep our perspective and maintain our “for the people” attitude.

Monday: Research Writing and Strong Female Detectives

When I was in college, I developed the talent that many have: come to a conclusion, then find research to support it. With the powers of the internet, you can find “proof” of virtually anything. I did some exhaustive studying like that for my first series of books (then found out, through some documentaries about the Mayans that Jamie was watching, that my ideas weren’t that far off).

 

But researching for a book–or a research paper, or anything credible–should be more open-ended. You seek information and dissect that information to reach the meat of your story or hypothesis. I feel strongly about this now, although in college I just wanted a well-written paper to get a good grade. One of my author friends, M.H. Boroson, is exceptionally good at researching the lifeblood of his stories. I think he reads 200 pages for every page written.

That might be excessive, but it did make me feel a bit behind. I’m writing a mystery series and haven’t read any mystery novels lately. I’m thinking I want to pick up Jamie Freveletti’s Running From the Devil. It has won lots of acclaim and she’s a badass in real life, so hopefully her protagonist is also a badass.

 

I did a little searching of Good Reads and found lots of male posters who seemed to think that “women are less likely to have nothing to lose” and “less likely to have a network of thugs and police” and thus “are less likely to be ass-kicking detectives.”
For Exhibit A, I present Detective Kate Beckett from Castle. A show that I had to watch all of, just for research purposes. And because Beckett is awesome.

 

Before I get on a soapbox, I want to close with the idea that research in/of/within science fiction and fantasy is not just a fancy way of saying “read more books.” I think we might even have to do an AnomalyCon Presents panel on the subject, perhaps in the August edition.

Friday: Steampunk World!

This weekend the team at AnomalyCon headquarters is headed over to Phoenix Comicon to check out some new guest options, see the cast of Babylon 5 for their 20th anniversary, and meet the crew of the Wild Wild West convention down in AZ.

The PCC website has a rather convoluted schedule that categorizes half of their programming as Steampunk–including Author chair dancing, AMVs, and a bunch of other random stuff. This leads us to an argument that has frequently occurred surrounding AnomalyCon: What IS Steampunk?

Well, as Regretsy likes to point out, it certainly is not this: Indian Squaw Loincloth Skirt. Yep. With computer parts. We actually had a “Native American Steampunk” with a headdress show up to AC this year. I’m not sure how I felt about that.

AnomalyCon/Victorian Productions define Steampunk as “A concept that embodies the idea that steam-powered or kinetic energy exists with advanced or alternate technology in a time outside of its own. It encompasses the aesthetic other than the modern, the idea that the common man can create technology using the objects around him, and a bit of the fantastical unknown.”

We’re not sticklers. Victorian Science Fiction just doesn’t cover enough ground. That’s why our 2013 theme was “All Things Punk.” We had a great time with it.

Separately, though, we are looking forward to establishing relationships with some other conventions. Denver Comic Con is talking  about having us come in and run Steampunk paneling all weekend next year. And while I can’t promise there will be no author chair dancing, I CAN promise that the Steampunk portion of our programming will be at least as much fun as it is at Starfest and MileHiCon.

In other news… Steampunk Legos are COMING. Which means the lego contest at AnomalyCon this year is going to be even more amazing.

And finally…though this may not be news to you, the African Martial Arts in the Victorian era were pretty awesome. See this article.

Stay Steamy, my dears–and check out the guests we have already announced for AnomalyCon!

Wednesday: Reading Between the Lines:

Recently I was perusing a local Barnes and Noble, and was very disappointed to find their Gay/Lesbian section had about 4 books in it. 2 were about or by Ellen Degeneres.

Those of you who have read Beneath the Crust or any of my short stories (A League Below together with the Penny Dread Tales III was nominated for a Bram Stoker, by the way) know that I write female protagonists who love women. Some of them come to that conclusion within my books, some of them knew before the book started. I am doing research to dig up other sci-fi/fantasty novelists who write GLBT issues into their books.

Guy Anthony de Marco pointed me toward Caitlin R Kiernan, who has way more LGBT credentials than I do and is published by Roc Books. I am thinking I will pick up one of her books (Probably Threshold) and read up.

Guy also suggested I start writing young adult/new adult fiction with some self discovery in it–in other words, science fiction that might help kids coming out realize it’s OK to do so. I’m working on a short story to that effect, but more is never bad. Time to add another project to the pile.

Perhaps this is one of the things that drew me to Steampunk–not that my stories are all Steampunk, mind you. But it is wonderful to have a genre that bends the era’s rules about relationships. People can be people–mad, brilliant, beautiful, stylish people. But still people.

Monday: Strong Women in Fiction:

The language in this post may be a bit harsher than usual, and this is a long post.

 

Recently I have been conducting a series of arguments thinly disguised as panels at conventions around the city, discussing what could be considered a hot topic. Usually the attendance is primarily female, but I do find that a few men seeking character writing advice will often attend.

This panel and its contents are most interesting because everyone comes hoping to learn, but also with their own vision of what strength is and who has it.

 

By and large when we begin, people identify with the thought that physical strength is an indicator of character strength–the outmoded way of thinking that only masculine strength characteristics are valid. We will talk about what characters are strong and why: Katniss (Hunger Games), for her abilities with weapons. Merida (Brave), for her fighting and riding skills, Beckett (Castle), Snow (Once Upon a Time), for being complete badasses.

But then, as panelists, we direct the audience to consider what other aspects of these characters give them strength. If stripped of their ability to physically destroy their attackers, what else do they have going for them?

 

For most of them, the conclusion is also a life lesson straight out of a psychology textbook. Each of these characters, in spite of their surroundings, knows that she has the ability to change her own destiny (or fate, in Merida’s case). They do not allow external forces upon their life to convince them that their predicament is insurmountable. They are not carried along by other forces. They have their own goals and dreams and agenda and refuse to let those be stolen from them.

 

With that definition, many more characters get pulled into the mix. What about Nancy Drew, who was not physically dangerous but was smart, talented, and had a penchant for getting herself in and out of trouble? What about Arya of Game of Thrones, who a headstrong and brave 11 year old who doesn’t want to be a lady because she perceives that her society looks down on women in dresses?

 

But wait, our audience cries out. Do you have to play like a boy to be treated with respect?

While my own experiences are a bad example of dressing like a woman and playing in that arena, sacrificing one’s own style is not a sign of strength, but a sign of self defense. If our society is to outgrow the obsessive notion that women in power are bitches or sluts, women who prefer to be feminine must be able to do so without compromising their strength of character. There are examples of this.

 

What about Pepper Potts (Iron Man), who may seem to just be the assistant to a billionaire but is in fact an entrepreneur and a brilliant businesswoman who takes matters into her own hands whenever necessary? Beckett wears heels and runs in them–but not spikes, because that would be insane. The Evil Queen wears beautiful dresses and still manages to control everything.

 

This leads to further discussion about what constitutes good and what constitutes evil, whether one can be evil and still be strong, etc. Someone always mentions Twilight in these panels. I want to underline carefully that a character being weak does not necessarily mean the writing is bad.


Someone in the last iteration of this panel asked me how he could write strong female characters as a man. I told the audience to write what they know–write about their sisters, their daughters, their mothers, their friends in the workplace. Everyone knows strong women. Everyone has them in their life. If you do not see strong women all around you, you are not looking hard enough–or your mind is stuck in the 50s.