Tag: Steampunk

Guest Post: Gail Z. Martin – The Changing Business of #Publishing (#writing post)

Iron & Blood Martin CoverUnleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Gail Z. Martin as our Guest Blogger for Friday, July 24th, 2015. Gail wrote for us last year and you can check out her post on Writing an Epic Fantasy Series.  This time she’s talking about the nitty-gritty of publishing.  How it is, how it was, and how it may become.

Also as a quick note, her new book Iron & Blood just came out this month! It is a steampunk novel set in an alternative history Pittsburgh chock full of airships, supernatural creatures, amazing inventions, and lots of explosions.  What more could one ask for? Here’s the scoop (yes, I’m making you read an advertisement before getting to the article…but it sounds so cool!):

New Pittsburgh, 1898 – a crucible of invention and intrigue. Born from the ashes of devastating fire, flood and earthquake, the city is ruled by the shadow government of The Oligarchy. In the swarming streets, people of a hundred nations drudge to feed the engines of progress, while in the abandoned tunnels beneath the city, supernatural creatures hide from the light, emerging only to feed.

Jake Desmet and Rick Brand travel the world to secure treasures and unusual items for the collections of wealthy patrons, accompanied by Jake’s cousin, Veronique LeClerque. But when their latest commission leads to Jake’s father’s murder, the three friends are drawn into a conspiracy where dark magic, industrial sabotage and the nightmares come to life will ultimately threaten not just New Pittsburgh, but the whole world.

 

The Changing Business of Publishing

ebooksTechnological change has destabilized the publishing industry, creating a structural upheaval that extends from top to bottom, from the way authors get paid to the means to produce and distribute their work. Not only does this mean that publishers must re-evaluate their role and value in the process of creating books and bringing them to market, but it also means that authors must begin to see themselves as part of the production process beyond the writing itself, to embrace an unprecedented level of entrepreneurship, and to navigate the changing relationship with publishers and the public.

Not too long ago, book publishers had a clear role. They selected books for publication, bankrolled the book production process, maintained relationships with the distribution channels of stores and libraries, and did a bit of promotion. Self-publishing before ebooks was difficult and expensive and without access to bookstores, was difficult for authors to do successfully, even ignoring the stigma attached to the process.

Four big things changed the status quo: the rise of ebooks and the decline of traditional bookstores, as well as the increased accessibility of professional-quality graphic design and publishing software plus the shift to print-on-demand technology.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe combination of good design software and the advent of ebooks meant that it was less expensive and much easier to produce a good-looking book without going through traditional publishing channels. The decline of physical bookstores and the rise of online booksellers gave ebooks a whole new audience, and print-on-demand meant that authors no longer had the financial barrier of purchasing an entire print-run of their book. Individual authors and small presses now had the ability to compete with traditional publishers in a way that hadn’t been possible since the Gutenberg Press.

So here we are, about a decade into this publishing revolution, and no one really knows how to maximize the new system. Big publishers were slow to adopt ebooks and print on demand, and ended up scrambling as profits fell. Small publishers and individuals scrambled to seize first-mover advantage with the technology, but didn’t find the golden egg. Big national chain bookstores have made poor decisions–many of which had nothing to do with books–and gone out of business or cut the number of stores. Independent bookstores, which had largely been driven out of business by the big chains, are starting a comeback. Library spending is struggling as local budgets are cut, in part as an aftereffect of the 2008 recession, and in part because of our current cultural shortsightedness about spending any money that benefits the average person.

And in the middle of the chaos is the individual author, trying to make valid career decisions. It’s no secret or surprise that even many well-known authors keep a day job, and that other established authors have been developing their own publishing capabilities and side businesses as publishers cut advances and shrink book deals. Just like the merger mania and downsizing in Corporate America taught every employee to think of himself as a temporarily hired freelancer or contractor, the shakeup in publishing has led to authors wondering how they can plan a future where they continue to publish and yet also can make a living doing so.

CrowdfundingPic2Increasingly, authors are adopting a hybrid career where they take contracts with traditional publishers, develop other projects through small presses and self-publish additional work. The rise of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding mechanisms to offset the risk of funding a publishing project and the advent of platforms like Patreon to pay authors to produce work have attempted to fill in some of the gaps left by big publishers, though imperfectly.

Authors today need to possess not only the skills to produce a good book, but also be savvy marketers, fearless entrepreneurs, and intrepid self-promoters. The days are long gone when an author’s job is done once the manuscript is turned in to the editor. Self-publishing can generate higher per-book pay, but it takes relentless effort for an individual author to achieve the kind of unit sales common in traditional publishing. Authors who have been in the game long enough to get rights reverted from out of print books now have the task of reformatting those books for ebook release. No one has found the magic formula.

Writing has always been considered to be an uncertain way to make a living, much like the arts and theater. I’d argue that in the long run, the net gain of ebooks, online bookselling and print on demand will work out for the best, although there’s a lot to be mourned in the lack of the stability that landing a contract with a big publisher used to provide. And until a more proven, stable business model emerges from the chaos writers and publishers are going to continue to muddle on, doing the best they can to make a living while creating the books they can’t live without.

kickstarterorderofthestick

Gail Z MartinGail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of Deadly Curiosities and the upcoming Vendetta in her urban fantasy series; The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit 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. Check out more of her work (and blog) at AscendantKingdoms.com.

 

larry-n-martinLarry N. Martin fell in love with fantasy and science fiction when he was a teenager. After a twenty-five year career in Corporate America, Larry started working full-time with his wife, author Gail Z. Martin and discovered that he had a knack for storytelling, plotting and character development, as well as being a darn fine editor. Iron and Blood is their first official collaboration. On the rare occasions when Larry isn’t working on book-related things, he enjoys pottery, cooking and reading.

 

 

 

Find them at www.JakeDesmet.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin or @LNMartinauthor, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin free excerpts, Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

 

 

 

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What does #Steampunk Mean? 10 Authors Share their Vision of the Genre

COGWHEELS Ten Tales of Steampunk Cover - Woman in Victorian Corset with a Fan Okay, okay, this post a is a little bit of a promotional post as the 10 writer’s whose thoughts I’m collecting are all in Rayne Hall’s anthology “Cogwheels.”   And in full disclosure, my short story “Touch of Love” is one of the stories in the collection.

‘Cogwheels: Ten Tales of Steampunk’  is available as an ebook from Amazon and will soon also be on Barnes & Noble, iBooks and other bookseller sites. The introductory price is 99c. Not a bad price for what is actually more than 10 stories which the editor talks about here: https://www.facebook.com/RayneHallAuthor/timeline  and can be explained with the statement, “Don’t let your cat help with the editing, even if he does have good taste!”  Anyway, Rayne was kind enough to pull together the post below that gives us insight into the views of the authors featured in the anthology.

“Steampunk is a marvellous genre—a blend of historical, fantasy and science fiction, often with elements of romance, horror, humour, mystery and more stirred into the mix. It has been evolving constantly, like a fabulous machine inspiring variants, experiments and derivatives. Writers of all kinds have used it, tinkered with it, and enriched it with their creative concepts.

“Many Steampunk stories explore the relationship between humankind and technology, some delve into social issues, while others toy with the costuming, etiquette and gadgetry of an age that never was but might have been.

The writers whose stories are featured in the anthology Cogwheels: Ten Tales of Steampunk reveal what Steampunk means to them and what attracts them to the genre.”  – Rayne Hall

Pic Bob Brown Bob Brown
“Steampunk is half what could have been and half what could be. Knowing the history of all of the different cultures of mankind, one thing rings out, you are either afraid and suspicious of strangers or you learn to be. ”

 

 

 

Nied Darnell
“Steampunk equals imagination gone wild. I’ve written novels set in the 19th century but history had to hem me in, keep my wildest fancies tromped down. Steampunk, on the other hand, asks if they can come out to play.”

Pic Mark Cassell Mark Cassell
“Steampunk is new territory for me, although it does share threads with the SF genre. It gives the writer, and reader, freedom to explore not the furthest reaches of space but of a land of what could have been.”

 

 

 

Pic Kin S LawKin S. Law
“The turning point between 19th and 20th centuries was also a turning point in attitudes, how we viewed the world. You can’t unite a world with ships, or telegraph, or internet, without expecting a radical, revolutionary change, and Steampunk is the best vessel for reflecting the changes of today.”

 

 

 

Pic April Grey April Grey
“To me, Steampunk means a fun take on my favorite stories of adventure from the 18th and 19th centuries, when the magic of science was still fresh and innocent. It’s also a chance to re-examine how far we have come. In the past 200-300 years we’ve made great strides and also some spectacular failures in human rights…I don’t think Steampunk should gloss over that, at the same time, every writer needs to write their own vision of this genre.”

 

 

Pic Day Al-Mohamed Day Al-Mohamed
“Steampunk to me is a reflection of a different time (albeit a created one), where science and discovery were moving rapidly forward and we learned more about the world around us and how it worked in intimate detail. There was a sense of adventure and the fantastical exemplified by Verne and Wells. I find that Steampunk is similar to science fiction in the interest and emphasis, and inherent connection to technology, but it differs in that science fiction has tended to show us a future and time that is dystopic, where Steampunk is inherently optimistic. There is a belief that all the world’s ills can be explained and solved, if we just go out and seek it.”

 

Morgan A. Pryce
“Writing my first ever Steampunk story, I may have fallen in love with this rollercoaster of a playground where the mad kid rules: nothing is too crazy as long as it rattles, ticks, tocks and steams. I found the tension between a historical setting, technology that doesn’t belong and the age-old question of ‘What if….?’ highly inspirational.”

Pic Kevin O McLaughlin Kevin O. McLaughlin
“To me, Steampunk is partly about the period—but is more about the flavor, the feel of the story. I enjoy it because it’s a structure with limits within which the writer can create from a dizzying array of possibilities.”

 

 

 

pic Jonathan Broughton Jonathan Broughton
“Steampunk can be fun. It can also be horrific. Surprise arises when the two are mixed.”

 

 

 

 

pic Liv Rancourt Liv Rancourt
“Beyond the corsets and goggles, Steampunk is about optimism. The genre is grounded in a time when human ingenuity was going to solve all the problems in the world. Because of that, I find it a lot more appealing than, say, dystopian or even 1980s nihilistic punk.”

 

 

 

Pic Rayne HallRayne Hall
“Steampunk fiction takes place in a culture that’s similar to our own yet different, so we can recognise ourselves in the characters and at the same time view our situations and social issues from a new perspective. The Steampunk world is based both on historical fact and on creative imagination, so when we read the stories, we are able to suspend our disbelief.”

 

 

Pic Joanne AndertonJoanne Anderton
“To me, Steampunk is all about an old-school awe at technology and machines, and it reminds us of a time when it felt like science could do anything. Cogs, gears, steam, they’re are all so much more physical than the sleek, neat computers we have nowadays. It’s that physicality we love, the way you can literally see the way the machines work. But there’s also a hint of darkness in all this optimism that particularly appeals to me. Amidst all that Victorian-era wonder there’s the spectre of pollution and inequality.”

 

 

 

Do you agree with these authors, or do you have a different perspective? Leave a comment and tell us what Steampunk means to you.


Guest Post: Tee Morris – Your Great Book Tour: It’s Gonna Cost You

DEL-coverUnleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Tee Morris as our Guest Blogger for Monday, March 24th, 2014.  Dawn’s Early Light: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel will be released tomorrow!  Tee was kind enough to give us some great insight from his own painful lessons. Book tours always sound so glamorous and who doesn’t love attending conventions? Fun, camaraderie, and hey, this is my job!  Right? Tee has some pretty sober commentary on what it is really like, and some tips on other, less pricey, means of connecting. Stay tuned and check out the giveaways at the end. And because we couldn’t resist, we had to give you a taste of the book before his guest post.

Working for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, one sees innumerable technological wonders. But even veteran agents Braun and Books are unprepared for what the electrifying future holds…

After being ignominiously shipped out of England following their participation in the Janus affair, Braun and Books are ready to prove their worth as agents. But what starts as a simple mission in the States—intended to keep them out of trouble—suddenly turns into a scandalous and convoluted case that has connections reaching as far as Her Majesty the Queen.

Even with the help of two American agents from the Office of the Supernatural and the Metaphysical, Braun and Books have their work cut out for them as their chief suspect in a rash of nautical and aerial disasters is none other than Thomas Edison. Between the fantastic electric machines of Edison, the eccentricities of MoPO consultant Nikola Tesla, and the mysterious machinations of a new threat known only as the Maestro, they may find themselves in far worse danger than they ever have been in before…

Your Great Book Tour: It’s Gonna Cost You

We’re only in the third month of 2014 and I’m struggling to get back into a routine. This year is a not only a year of change, but of new books, new possibilities, and leaps of faith. Everyone around me is telling me to cut myself a break but the reality is, just like staying in shape, I have to keep at this.

Just in this month alone, my wife of infinite awesome and I release Dawn’s Early Light: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel. Me. The Kiwi. Steampunk. The covers Ace created for the print and the audio are nothing short of beautiful. Then there is our appearance on James River Writers’ The Writing Show where we talk about being hybrid authors and how we get more estimated mileage out of our writing careers than some others. (See what I did there?) Then two days after that, Pip and I host a Master Class of Social Media for Writers.

All this is happening the week of Dawn’s Early Light’s release.

And did I mention that Pip and I launched a new business venture this month?

I need a nap.

2014 is a big step for me as a writer because I am dedicated to make this lifestyle a full-time one so I’m trying to take everything I have learned since 2002 when Morevi first rolled off the presses. One of the hardest lessons I learned over this decade-and-change of writing professionally is just how easy it is to find yourself in the red. Deep in the red. I’m not speaking of the red ink found in an editor’s pen, mind you, but the financial red of your bank account when it tells you in so many words that you—the professional author—are flat broke.

Between 2002 and 2004, I accrued over $30,000 of debt, and it took me just over five years to get myself out of that hole. An overwhelming majority of the debt was what I now look back on as a crazy gamble: book tours. I was, in those two years, averaging a convention appearance a month. This does not count the occasional bookstore and coffee shop signing. Some months, I stayed at home. Others, I had two cons back-to-back with one-night speaking events at libraries and colleges.

I am often reminded of just how tough it is to “give the people what they want” as tweets ask us when we would bring Eliza and Wellington to their neck of the woods. These tweets coming from the west (Washington), from the south (the Carolinas), and from points south AND west (Texas). We even have interest from across the Atlantic with WorldCon: London and EuroCon: Ireland.

But here’s the truth of it: Can we afford these trips? Right now, LonCon and Shamrokon are both uncertain.

With the hard financial lessons I’ve garnered over the years, I want to give new-and-upcoming authors and authors-to-be a realistic look at what taking Science Fiction and Fantasy on the road could cost you. The bills may vary based on who buys you lunch, how many visits you make to the bar (which for me is often), and how many rounds you feel like picking up at said bar. The costs for a book tour can quickly add up if you’re not paying attention.

The convention I’m using as the boilerplate is Philcon, Philadelphia’s premier Science Fiction and Fantasy convention, within driving distance of my home. Here is the breakdown of how much a weekend at Philcon costs:

    ▪       Gas: $38.00

    ▪       Tolls: $18.00

    ▪       Hotel: $273.70

    ▪       Food: $283.54

    ▪       Petty Cash: $60.00

    ▪       Grand Total: $673.24

Considering that Pip was with me, we ate in the hotel (with limited trips to the bar), and the hotel itself was reasonable. I’m sure we could have shaved off a few dollars here and there, but $600-700 for a con weekend within driving distance sounds about right. Factor in larger events (Balticon and Dragon*Con, for example) and you can easily tack on another $400-600 on that tab. Add in airfare ($225-500 per person) and now we’re doubling (or tripling) the amount.

Yes, I know—it’s a tax deduction, but that thinking contributed to serious financial trouble. While a book promotion is a deduction, I’m not getting all of it back. Only a piece of it.

I still believe that face time is extremely important to the author, especially those new to the market. However, it is more important to pay the bills, have a safety net in the bank, and make certain the roof you’re keeping over your head can be fixed at a moment’s notice.

Oh yeah, and writing. Writing is very important to the writer, last time I checked. And these appearances all have one thing in common: You’re not writing when you’re at a book signing.

With pop culture’s depiction of authors (see Murder She Wrote, any author character in a Stephen King adaptation), there is a common perception that this sort of marketing is the only option for promotion of your works. Since the advent of social media, authors have a variety of cost-effective ways and means to tour, all from the comforts of home.

Blogging. A blog tour, either organized by a third party or yourself, is when a series of blogs are networked and bloggers take turns providing content for one another’s sites. The topics can range from a casual topic that tickles the fancy to specific topics pertaining to a writer’s career. Blog tours can cover areas across your hometown, across the country, or even around the world, and in the end you find yourself with a healthy collection of evergreen content that can be used for your own blog.

Podcasting. Similar to a blog tour, a podcast tour can be arranged across different podcasts before and after a writer’s release. Your topics can range from a casual to specific with some discussion steering in or around your book. Podcasts can also be easily syndicated on your own blog and shared in your feed, introducing a new audience to your host podcasts after they have introduced yours to them.

Another promotional avenue that can be pursued through both blogging and podcasting is producing short stories set in your works’ universe. The content can be either created by yourself or other authors you invite into your world. Free short stories in either digital or audio formats are a fantastic way to introduce new readers to your worlds.

Social Media. Whether it is Facebook ads from your Page or running quality content from your Twitter, Instagram, a Google+ accounts, social media provides authors with a variety of channels not only with the ability to reach different audiences but to cast a wide net across the country and around the world. Promotions on these channels should not launch too early but can run throughout the month surrounding a major event or book release, ramping up the budget for dynamic social media ad space the closer a release or special event draws near. The content you push will not only be news pertinent to your own works but also other relevant links to your expertise. Aim for roughly three to five posts a week per platform, with that number doubling once we are two weeks out of the release date.

When it comes to promotion, whether it is a personal appearance or a podcast, authors must be economical. I look back on my schedule of 2002-2004 and understand why people described it as “aggressive” because a con a month was a gusty, rigorous, and risky move for a new author. I also shake my head because I could have — and should have — managed my finances with more scrutiny so I would have realized sooner rather than later the dangerous gamble I was taking…and losing. It was an education for me, a school of hard knocks that I would prefer not to attend again. Today, I pinch pennies, weigh the benefits, and make sound decisions. I have to use terms like ROI and USP. I have to stop being the artist and become a businessman. That is what this is, after all. The business of being a writer.

That doesn’t mean Pip and I won’t be at a con near you. You never know. A convention chair may be a huge fan of podcasting, or have a slight crush on Eliza Braun; and the numbers for Dawn’s Early Light might be enough for a committee to say “How about Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris? Do you think they are available?” And while we might not be able to come out to your part of the country (or the world), you could always brave the airports and come out to an event where we will be in attendance. Something I have noticed about the events we attend is an abundance of good times. So keep checking with us on my blog or Pip’s; and if fortune (or fandom) favors the steampunks, we might very well find ourselves announcing an update in our travel plans.

See you in the future? Anything’s possible.

Author Bio:Pip_Tee_byJRB

Tee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.

Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair were finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light. When Tee is not creating something on his Macintosh, he enjoys a good run, a good swim, and putting together new playlists to write by. His other hobbies include cigars and scotch, which he regards the same way as anime and graphic novels: “I don’t know everything about them, but I know what I like.” (And he likes Avo and Arturo Fuente for his smoke, Highland Park for his scotch!) He enjoys life in Virginia alongside Pip, his daughter, and three cats.

Dawn’s Early Light will be available at:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17572901-dawn-s-early-light

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dawns-Early-Ministry-Peculiar-Occurrences/dp/0425267318/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1394038040&sr=8-1&keywords=dawn%27s+early+light+pip+ballantine

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dawns-early-light-pip-ballantine/1114829772?ean=9780425267318

AND if you’ve stuck with us this long there is a GIVEAWAY:

These giveaways are open to both U.S. and Canadian readers. At the end of the tour, there will be three winners chosen from this one Rafflecopter.

PRIZE ONE

Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
Signed Abney Park Poster
Signed Abney Park CD Ancient World
Signed coverflats of Phoenix Rising and the Janus Affair

PRIZE TWO

Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
The Extraordinary Contraptions CD
Signed cover flat of Phoenix Rising

PRIZE THREE

Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences

 

Just link to the code: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/MDdhZGFkMTc1NzdiY2U0NzAwNTdmNTEyMmRhZGUwOjI0/

 

Photo by J.R. Blackwell

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Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the Steampunk genre.  And at a book fair in Frederick, MD this past summer, it was my delight to meet the authors of this month’s book review, Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, creators of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurences.  They were both dressed in Steampunk costume which was also an incredible delight.  I picked up the first book in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series there at their table.  And when I got home, I was surprised a bit when I remembered I had previously added their book to my Amazon.com Wishlist.  I suppose it was destined for me to read this book.  Anyway, on to the review!

“Phoenix Rising: A Ministry Of Peculiar Occurrences Novel” is a Steampunk genre novel by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris.  The novel is set in London, circa 1894.  Let’s first look at a few things that are not general knowledge to the average American reader.  A Ministry, capital M, is a government department headed by a minister of state, often in England or Anglo influenced countries.  During this period, the Victorian Era, there was a growing middle class brought on by industrialization, but a distinction among social classes was still prevalent.  An air of nobility among the higher social classes permeated many relationships at this time.  Gentlemen went to clubs and indulged in entertainments while ladies were expected to refrain from manly pursuits such as drinking, gambling, or wearing restrictive clothing.

Now with all that out of the way, I have to start by saying Ballantine and Morris have created quite the dynamic duo in Agents Wellington Books and Elizabeth Braun.  At first, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the play on words with the obvious “Books” being the brains and “Braun” being the brawn of the partnership, but after I got a couple of chapters into the book, it didn’t bother me at all.  In fact, it was something I barely noticed.  Agent Books is an Archivist at the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, the covert agency of the English monarchy that deals in the bizarre and unusual.  And Agent Braun is his dynamite toting partner in a bulletproof corset.

Ballantine and Morris’ plot starts out with a bang and doesn’t slow down.  There is a bit of obvious tension between the two mismatched agents, but the authors do a superb job of building said tension at the right moments and letting it ebb at just the right moment or even sometimes defusing it.  The partners investigate a cold case and uncover a secret fraternity dedicated to overthrowing the British status quo.  Woven throughout that plot is the wonderful world created in this Victorian London.  There are elements from both myth and literature thrown in to flesh out the world, such as the criminal organization The House of Usher.  Burgeoning technological marvels are on the verge of changing the world anyway, and some of the agents at the Ministry are embracing change such as the dear Agent Wellington Books, inventing his own marvelous devices, while others plot to move the Empire away from the steam powered industrial revolution.

The writer’s mantra of “show don’t tell” is put to good use in “Phoenix Rising” as the authors paint their detailed world in a gritty, yet brass polished, manner including the sounds and smells of this alternate 19th century.  The opera house scene in the book is a study in contrasting sounds.  The agents seek to eavesdrop on a whispered conversation while they strive for silence and stealth all played out with the operatic performance of Macbeth setting the undertone for the entire scene.  The banter, retorts, and witty comebacks between the protagonists underpin the dialogue throughout the story, but Ballantine and Morris use this quite well to impart not only the necessary information to the reader, but advance the relationship between Books and Braun.

What would appear as a formulaic partnership has the reader expecting the heroes to fall into each other’s arms or at least each other’s beds by the end of the book.  However, as this is the beginning of a series, that next step leaves the reader wanting more.  Books and Braun are fun and familiar characters who, in my opinion, would look wonderful on the silver screen or an anime canvas, have become two of my favorites.  I hope to read many more of their adventures.

I give “Phoenix Rising:  A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel” five flags.  I was surprised at what I thought were expected turns and entertained at each step the characters made.

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WWW: -punkgate

There’s a funny thing about Watergate. There was no water involved. Oh, I’m sure that someone along the way drank some water, and the hotel is right on the Potomac River, but it’s not like the break-in happened in government offices under the Potomac. There weren’t get away boats. No one tried to steal or buy a pond. No water. None. How “-gate” got pulled out of the word Watergate and turned into a suffix that meant “a scandal involving” escapes me. I suppose it’s a certain amount of laziness and momentum at this point. There’s a new political or sports controversy, so lets slap “-gate” at the end and everyone will know what we’re talking about.

Thus when the New Orleans Saints were accused of offering bounties to injure opposing players, it became bountygate. When the Patriots used camera angles to steal sideline signals from the Jets, it became spygate. This isn’t a recent mangling of the English language. The first “-gate” after Watergate, at least according to Wikipedia so it must be true, was the 1976 Koreagate scandal involving influence peddling to keep troops in South Korea and Democratic senators. The intention, at the time, was to use the “-gate” suffix to make it morally equal to Watergate, say that the Democrats were just as bad. It is recent that this invented suffix has exploded, even to the point of Gategate, an incident in Great Britain that involved an actual gate.

The other day on Twitter I used the term “Whalepunk.” I was using it to describe the game Dishonored, where most of the steampunk-like tech is actually powered by a form of whale oil. A cursory Google search says I’m far from the first person to use this term, whether to describe Dishonored or other works of fiction.

The suffix -punk has become a go to in genre fiction. It started with Cyberpunk and meant a very specific thing, bringing punk sensibilities to near future fiction. It spread to Steampunk. Now there’s Dieselpunk, Decopunk, Biopunk Nanopunk, yes I’m just listing these from the Wikipedia article “Cyberpunk derivatives” where I also see the terms Splatterpunk, Stonepunk, Clockpunk, Teslapunk, Atompunk, Nowpunk (aka contemporary non-genre fiction with at least one technically proficient character), Elfpunk, and Mythpunk. And that doesn’t even include Whalepunk, stories that focus on alternate high technology run almost exclusively on whale oil.

The suffix “-punk” in genre fiction has become almost as meaningless as “-gate” in the worlds of sports and politics. I suppose by way of definition, “-punk” now means “genre computer-based fiction involving” but it arguably meant so much more. It’s become largely a clever way of creating just a slightly different alternate history than someone else’s alternate history.

I love steampunk. Please don’t think this is some rant and rave against the -punk subgenres. I’d actually be intrigued to write something that might be considered “whalepunk” by someone who insisted upon that being a new sub-subgenre. Perhaps that’s even what Mermaids of the Moon is. These various -punks are fantastic for building anthologies around. However, I can’t help but wonder if we do a disservice to genre fiction as a whole by trying to further and further pigeon hole stories by creating a new subgenre every time someone puts a computer, robot, or airship in a slightly different decade. Using a slightly different power source.

In the past, fiction books fit into six broad categories: literature, romance, mystery, western, science fiction/fantasy, and horror. This was the split because this is how books were arranged into sections at bookstores and libraries. Perhaps not even with that much granularity. However, more people are going to Amazon to do their book shopping. Or are exploring books through Goodreads. Both of these provide ways of tying books together in a more dynamic sense. Amazon can put books onto multiple shelves, as they don’t have to worry about physically organizing a book store. Goodreads encourages folks to make shelves for their books and uses those to pinpoint suggested reading. Sure, Goodreads only lists 40 options in their genre fields, covering both fiction and non-fiction, but if I click into a book I can see how others have chosen to categorize it.

While this makes it easier for people to find books similar to what they like, does it make it harder to break out of comfort zones? If I’m given a list of hundreds of Steampunk novels, rather than digging through the science fiction/fantasy section to find them, sure I’m going to get more steampunk to read, but I’ll pass fewer books that might catch my eye even if I think I want corsets and gears in my stories.

This is the direction reading is going. I don’t feel comfortable prognosticating many things, but I feel I can prognosticate this. Databases replace shelves, and entries can be cross linked in more and more subtle and drilled-down ways. It’s fantastic and overwhelming, and I don’t know how it’s going to affect how we find and consume media in the future. The sub-subgenre is probably here to stay, and may spread outside of genre fiction. Perhaps it already has, and I just don’t have enough of an outsider’s view to see this. It means as new books come out there will be a push to pigeonhole, and we’ll end up more and more going back to the old classics and figuring out which new categories they fit into, assigning words to them that their authors never knew.

In the end this might be a great good, giving people more avenues to explore, branching off as a book occupies two sub-subgenres. At the worst we’re looking at the gradual downfall of the casual browser. In that case, there’s only one word for what we’re staring down.

It’s the punkgatemageddon.


WWW: Germany, Austria, and Telegraph Wires

So I don’t really have anything writing related to talk about this week, so I thought I’d pass along an odd little tidbit from a book I’m reading called The Victorian Internet which was written by Tom Standage and is currently available for the ludicrous price of under $6 in print on Amazon. Seriously, that’s cheaper than the Kindle version, so go grab it. $10 gets it on Kindle, but text-to-speech isn’t enabled, and it’s not available on audio. I know that at least one of our fantastic blog hostesses will boo about that, which is a shame because this little tidbit is aimed largely at her. But seriously, if you’re thinking about writing some Steampunk, this is a hell of a book to read as it is all about the real-life technical stuff going on right during the period where Steampunk is typically set, and taught me about things like Gutta-Percha which I never knew about before but was basically Victorian-era latex.

Side note, Standage has an earlier book called The Turk which is about the famous chess playing not-robot, and which has been added to my non-fiction must read list.

So Victorian Internet is all about the invention of the electric telegraph, it’s adoption, and how it changed the world by providing the wide spread dissemination of news and correspondences at speeds faster than a horse for the first time in human history. Seriously, think about that. When this country was founded in 1776 information could be passed from one place to another no faster than it could in the Roman Empire. Give a man a note, a horse, and send him off. Suddenly information could move as fast as electricity, which seemed instantaneous, though science has now measured it and can more accurately say it’s really friggen fast.

So nations started building networks of telegraph cables, which connected major cities but didn’t cross international borders. That is until the Germans (probably actually the Prussians, given the time) and Austrians came to an agreement that allowed for telegraphic messages sent from one country to the other. However, they accomplished this international linking in a byzantine way that I know I’ve seen Day talk about using in a story.

A telegraphic message starting in Dusseldorf and heading to Vienna would travel to a telegraph office that straddled the border between the two nations. At that point it would be transcribed by an operator, manually walked across the international border that ran through the middle of the building, then handed to another operator who would start it on its way into Austria. This isn’t because the wires couldn’t handle the distances involved. It’s because governments don’t always trust each other. At the end of the day if the two nations wanted to stop their amicable telegraphic back-and-forth, they simply needed to unstaff this office. No need to pull apart the telegraphic networks built, which would be a case of cutting off ones nose to spite ones face.

This arrangement didn’t last long, and eventually all of Europe was interconnected with telegraph wires. But that still stands as the first international telegraphic connection, and it was an odd duck at that.


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