Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Steampunking a Brochure Display: Part 1 of Creating a Steampunk Group Promo Table

As I mentioned in a previous post, one day, I suddenly realized I was running a local steampunk group.  I had also just been invited to have a promotional table for steampunk at a local fantasy-oriented Christmas Craft Fair, the Imaginarius Fantasticus.  It took me about a week to realize, whoops, I need to do more than just show up in costume with a smile, and talk to people.  They were going to give me a table, and I was going to be there for two 7-hour days.  I needed a display.  I needed promotional literature.  I needed something to PUT the promotional literature in.  Yikes.

I decided to create a brochure, (which took forever to write, and I will discuss that in a later post).  Then I had to think about a display for the brochure.

Fortunately for me, I had picked up a small cabinet at a Salvation Army store over the summer.  It was a small Bombay Company piece, with some dings, and was a bit busted.

I remembered it, and pulled it out.  I decided not to worry about the dings.  Now it just needed some tricking out to steampunk it.

Firstly, I tackled the front.  I simply unscrewed the small brass knobs, centred small gears over the holes, and rescrewed the knobs back on, which nicely held the gears in place.  
When closed, it looked like this:
Next, since the cabinet would mostly be open while on display, was to trick out the inside.

I decided to use vintage photographs, which I bought in an antique shop in Quebec City, to decorate the inside of the two doors.  So that I wouldn't damage the images by permanently affixing them, I used old pocketwatch faces as fasteners.  I made small pencil marks on the inside of the door noting the watchface placement, where I wanted the photo to be, and where the glue would have to go to provide a "pocket" for the photo.  I then used E6000 adhesive, spread on both the pocketwatch faces and the door, to affix them.  I held each one firmly in place, let them dry, and then carefully tucked the vintage photos into the non-glued portion.    On one side, I decided to add a key decoration, from a scrapbooking set.

The final step was to fill the cabinet and set it up at the event.  Pamphlets (and candy canes for children - and adults - who asked nicely) went in the back section, postcards for our sponsors, Plush (a local shop which sells crafts and allow us to use their back workroom for our craft meets) went into the next section down (with a hidden piece of styrofoam tucked on the bottom so they were placed well), and then I placed our business cards, my cards for the Steam Wench's Salon, and themed Christmas freebies of gift tags with Victorian & Edwardian images.  Here is an image of it all set up, with some decorative holly, at the Faire.
And, voila, a lovely cabinet to display steampunk brochures and business cards, and whatever other handouts and literature suit our next event. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Author Interview - Michel Vaillancourt of The Sauder Diaries

I cast my mind back to almost a year ago, when I reviewed a piece of addictive serial steampunk fiction, entitled The Sauder Diaries, that was being written and delivered episodically on Scribd, by Michel Vaillancourt.  

Now, just 11 months later, I am delighted to announce that The Sauder Diaries: By Any Other Name, by Michel Vaillancourt, has not only been accepted for publication by Trestle Press, but is being released in ebook format on Monday, December 19th (paper book to follow early in 2012).  (Amended July 2012:  After the fiasco with the original thieving publisher, the book is now published by Avenger Press Services and has finally been released for Kindle and in trade paperback on Needless to say, well, I'm excited, as this was an engaging piece of airship pirate steampunk fiction.
In preparation for the release of his debut novel on Monday, I decided to interview Michel Vaillancourt.  (Proper full novel review to follow, once I've had the pleasure of the reading the whole thing all of a piece.)  Please find below our interview, held late at night, from West Coast to East, Friday December 16. 

Hi Michel, thanks for agreeing to this interview regarding your about-to-released Sauder Diaries.

It's my pleasure.  I'm really enjoying this whole new world of being interviewed as an author.

Let's get right to it.

Sure thing!

First of all, to start, how would you summarize the Sauder Diaries (sans spoilers)?

It's a Steampunk-themed pirate adventure romance.  The core story is about a young man who breaks out of the shell of his own making and realizes there is a bigger world around him.

The main character, Hans Sauder, is on his way to university on an airship when he gets shanghaied by infamous pirates.  He eventually winds up traveling with the pirates all over Europe and beyond as part of the crew.

His life gets complicated when the woman in charge of the gunner-marines decides she's attracted to him.  Things get even more complicated when the ship he is on undertakes a dangerous mission into the territory of the Russian Empire.

What made you pick this moment in history (well, in alternate history) for your novel?

Really, I was reverse engineering a justification for airship piracy.  How does airship piracy work?  You can't have it without the economics to support it.  There is no point in stealing something unless you can sell it or trade it.  So who are they selling it to?  What made air travel more practical than land travel such as trains?

I needed a point in time that represented a major war in Europe that pre-dated the "core" of the Victorian Era.  For airship piracy to work, Europe had to be in a condition that meant that railroads and canals were unusable.  So, the Russian War, aka the Crimean War, was the event in history I was looking for.  From there, I started working forward in time to choose my year and date.

And why pirates?

The full explanation is on my blog, Split Horizons.  The short version is that I was listening to Abney Park's "Airship Pirates", and one line made me think, what sort of lunatic swings on a leather thong at 15000 feet in the air?"  And I wanted to answer the question, "who are the sort of people that live in a world where airship pirates are possible?"  

Originally, the Sauder Diaries was released as episodic fiction, on Scribd, as each portion was written.  In an ideal world, where any form of published work is available (and will of course provide a living), which is your preference ... releasing a solid novel, or the Victorian style of serial fiction, released chapter by chapter, as Dickens etc did?

Absolutely serial fiction.  In fact, if the fans would go for it, I'd love to release the second book that way.  Every week, release another chapter on a subscription arrangement or something.

However, I know authors who have tried this route and in this world, no one wants to buy at a buck a chapter. 

The Sauder Diaries contains some very strong, very independent female characters.  Was this a deliberate choice on your part, and why?

Absolutely.  One of the most iconic moments in the adventures of the Victorian Era is Henry Morton Stanley’s popular quotation, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”.  In the real world, that question could not have been delivered by a woman of the era.  But what about a world where it could?  What an interesting place that would be!

One of the things that the Victorian Era served as was a kind of watershed for the
Suffrage Movement.  To me, to be true to "Steampunk" as I see it, you pretty much need a female lead or supporting character to be ahead of the curve;  already be out there, doing the sort of things that the women of the time rallying in the streets could only dream about.

I also have a pet peeve about what I call the "Dry Ice Heroine" ... "Strong and frosty, strong and frosty, whoops here comes the hero / hunk, she melts."  I refuse to write that character, unless she's clearly a plot device.

And your female characters don't do that?

Absolutely not.  They may have moments of vulnerability, they might get scared or worried, but when the chips are down, they're as dependable as the men they work and live alongside.

What makes them different?

They're all women living in a men's world, and they've earned their equality, and they'll be damned if they'll be treated any different.  They work as hard, they fight as hard, they risk as hard.

What was the process, or motivation, that embarked you on your voyage to write the Diaries?

It's a complex answer.  Mostly, it was a goal-driven process for me;  I had never done this sort of a project before.  I had done short stories and serial fan-fic, but never a novel.  So, it was a matter of setting a goal -- write a chapter and publish it -- and then do it.  Rinse and repeat.  Then I had a novel.  So, set the next set of goals:  Get a Facebook community page.  Get a publisher.  Get the book out there.  Get people talking about it.  Start working on the next book.  One goal at time, achieve it, celebrate it, and aim for the next thing.

Has writing a novel been in your head for a while?  Or was this a new idea that just overtook you?
It is actually something I had wanted to do since my late teens or early 20's. I just had not found the right combination of life circumstances and story to have it happen.

Is there a character in The Sauder Diaries you have had more trouble writing than others?  If so, what was the challenge or difficulty?

The two female lead characters, Arrieta and Annika.  I'm not a woman, and so I can't claim to really understand what they think and what they hold important.  So, I did research;  I'm a lucky fella that knows a lot of attractive professional women that are also good friends.  They were willing to answer questions about how they thought and what they felt.  So, in a certain way, Arrieta is one group of women I know, and Annika is another.

Alternately, was there a character who came to you particularly easily?  If so, in what way?

Michael O'Raedy, known as Captain Blackheart.  He was the easiest to write, as I've known a lot of captains, and people in the real world who work in leadership and command. I've gotten to talk with them and learn about what they do, what they handle, and what they don't show.

Is there anything in The Sauder Diaries that surprised even you, when writing it?

Two things.  The first was the good Doctor Koblinski. He was supposed to be essentially a one scene character who was irrelevant to the long-term plot. The fans, however, were enamored with him and insisted he had to stick around.  I had tremendous feedback at the release of Chapter One that everyone loved his wit and clear common-sense.  So, the Doctor is around to stay.

They second thing that surprised me was how often I cried writing my first book.  I found that when I was writing the Sauder Diaries, I intentionally went places with my writing I'd never gone before, in terms of inspiring big emotion in the reader.  There are parts that I can't read aloud without choking up.  Both Book 1 and the in-progress Book 2.

Is there any little tidbit, which I'm not covering with the questions I've asked so far, that you'd like to share with us about the novel, or your process?  This is your opportunity to answer a question you want to answer, that you haven't been asked yet.

Don't tell me this isn't Steampunk.  It might not be your Steampunk, but that's okay.  This is my take on Steampunk.  It is what I see the fans and advocates at Cons, concerts and meets talking about as cool.  This is a book for Steampunks, written by a new member of the Steampunk movement.

As well, I'd like to stay that to me, the word Steampunk is composed of two words:  "Steam" and "Punk". 

"Steam" is the temporal reference marker;  the Age of Steam which firmly brackets the Victorian Era.  There is so much factual and pop-cultural imagery in that period that it is astonishing.  On land, at sea, and in the air,  History was happening and the world was changing like never before.

"Punk" is the conceptualization of social ideologies that are mostly concerned with individual freedom and anti-establishment views.  It's about freedom, it's about walking counter-class or caste, it's about doing things that would scandalize the "main stream culture" of the day.

So, that's part of what this story is about.  Underneath the pirates, airships and clockworks is a story with themes that take at least passing looks at the social norms of the day.  The treatment of servants, class-based poverty, the perception of women as objects or property, and Calvanist morals...  there is a lot to run at angles to here.

On a slightly off-book bent ... Steampunk:  what draws you to it?  And do you think it has to have a nailed down definition ?

Something I heard Phil Foglio say at Steamcon was that "Steampunk fiction is about when technology can save humanity.  It isn't the problem, it is the solution."

I agree with that.  Steampunk fiction is, to me at least, inherently hopeful.  It is about people doing incredibly cool things at a point in time when when no one knew what the boundaries were and they seemed to be on the brink of revolutionizing the world.  Everything was within the realm of possibility; everything was within reach.  The right man (or woman) with the right perseverance and the right science at the right place could change the world for the better.  That's pretty empowering.

In "The Sauder Diaries", being a pirate is as much about freedom as anything else. It is an inherently hopeful act; taking ownership of their own futures by their own actions and associations.  Maybe it isn't very nice, but I'll leave that for the moralists.  The pirates in this world are inherently the rebels and underdogs.  They are living outside the physical, social and moral walls of the setting. 

So you're more on the Jules Verne "optimist" camp of Victorian science fiction, then H.G. Wells "pessimist" camp (note for readers, the opposites are excellently described here.

That's one way of looking at it, yes.  

To me the best way to define Steampunk is by inclusion.  I prefer to be inclusive; it's all Steampunk, unless we all agree that it isn't.

Oh man, that's probably going to produce comment.   Yay!  I love it when the conversation gets exciting.

Thank you very much, Michel, for taking the time out late tonight for this interview, and congratulations on your debut novel!  I very much look forward to having it in my hot little hands, and even more to reading future work from you.

Dec 20/12 UPDATE:  If you're keen to get your hands on this book (and I do highly recommend it!) the ebook is now available for purchase online at Amazon's Kindle store here.

Feb 2/12 UPDATE:  Due to reprehensible actions on behalf of the small publisher, Trestle Press (stealing artwork from multiple sources and artists without permission, and presenting them to the authors as legitimate), Michel Vaillancourt, along with numerous other authors, has had to remove his book from sale at present.  You can see his blog entry on this situation here.

July 2012 UPDATE:  After the above fiasco, the book is happily now available again!  Published by Avenger Press Services and available on for Kindle and in trade paperback.

Friday, December 16, 2011

So Bieber did a Steampunk Video. Get Over It.

Okay.  I've been seeing a lot of crap going around about Justin Bieber's Steampunk Christmas Video, and peripherally, because Macy's in New York decided to do a steampunk Christmas display. 
Shot from Justin Bieber's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" video
Part of the Macy's Christmas window in New York
Get over it, people.  Bieber can do whatever he wants.  He hasn't murdered steampunk.  In the Gawker site's snide blurb, Justin Bieber Ruins Entire Nerd Subculture With New Christmas Video, they conclude: "Sorry, steampunks: time to get a new quirky aesthetic pastime before it blows up among 14-year-old Beliebers."  Um.  No.  Well, actually, if Bieber's involvement is enough to chase you away ... fine.  Go.  Please.  If you're afraid some teeny-boppers may get involved ... then I guess your steampunk time is done.  Leave now.  If you just participate in steampunk because you want to feel like you're part of some private little clique, and you think you'll wither and burn because "your" subculture is given some mainstream limelight, then please, go find some other reclusive little subculture to hide in, where you can feel all special and unique until it hits the mainstream. 

However, if you're really into steampunk, well, you'll still be into Steampunk despite Bieber.  Or Macy's.  You're into steampunk because at least some portion of it appeals to you (and it doesn't matter what part).  Steampunk entering the mainstream shouldn't scare you off.  New people getting involved in steampunk, even just temporarily, as a fad, is not the death knell, people.  If it's just as a fad, they'll leave.  If they take to it, well, we've got more people!  How is either option bad? 

Personally, I don't care that Bieber was either intrigued enough, or savvy enough, to do a steampunk video.  He's in business to succeed.  (And the boy's pretty darn popular, so maybe now I won't have to try explain steampunk to so many people, since he just threw it into the limelight.)  And you don't have to like the lad, or what he does.  But he hasn't killed steampunk.  I'm not a Bieber fan, by any stretch of the imagination, but his video is entertaining, except for the very distracting sporadic cartoon clips that don't fit at all.  The dancing is excellent, the costumes are good, and I love the windup dancer.  The set is pretty nifty - and how can you not steampunk Santa's workshop?  And kudos to Ian Finch-Field of SkinzNHydez for having his armpiece used on the video, because of his quality work. (And I daren't get into what I think of the jealous whiners who kvetched on about the artist "selling out", as it will cause my language to decline radically!)  So the music is a pop version of a Christmas tune ... why is that bad, but hardcore industrial music is "approved of" by some unknown entity, for steampunk?  So far, no one has managed to reasonably define steampunk MUSIC. 

I don't know why so many steampunks are freaking out about this, and seeing the apocalypse in Bieber doing steampunk and the potential movement into mainstream.  Though I do suspect it's the same small noisy population you find in all walks of life, that snobbish percentage that has to feel they're unique, because they're part of a unique community who all does the same thing ... really?  Think about that for a minute.  

I see way too much snobbery in steampunk these days, and it's ticking me off.  I've heard steampunks disapprove of how people dress (see previous post), I've even seen steampunks ignore folks because they don't fit their image of steampunk people (NO, you don't have to be young or pretty or slim or some obscure definition of "cool" to be steampunk).

If you're unique, you're unique.  I'm not unique because of who I hang out with, or how I dress, or because like making things, or because I'm into steampunk.  I just am.  The steampunk is just a symptom of how it's all coming out.  If other people are getting twigged into the stuff I'm into ... AWESOME!  More people to play with.  How is this bad?

So come on people.  Really.  Get over Bieber being steampunk.  Get over Macy's Christmas display being steampunk (man I wish I could see that in person instead of just seeing pictures here!)  Or, just get out.  And leave steampunk to those of us who really enjoy it.

Thank you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Unexpectedly Becoming a Steampunk Group

Settle in, good folks, have a cup of tea and a sweet.  This will be lengthier than usual.
In the general scheme of things, I am relatively new to steampunk - discovered it several years ago, but was only able to become actively involved just over two years ago, due to a variety of conspiring circumstances.  I started costuming in March of 2009, and attended my my first local event (a craft meet!) in late April 2009.  I was an immediate keener and have become increasingly avid about it.  Imagine, then, my dismay, when local events trickled to a complete halt.  Another group started up, holding sporadic events, but they seemed largely private, and included a High Tea or two (a lovely steampunk idea, but not for me, alas, as I dislike tea and I'm celiac - can't eat anything with wheat - so there's not a lot of reason for me to pay for a high tea).  I attended one or two events, however, when I could, but even those events trickled off.  However, I had the impression there were still folks wanting more.  And personally, I was frantic to have another craft meet-up, like my first ever event. 

And I was brought up under the concept that, if someone else isn't doing something you want, you do it yourself.

So, despite my hesitation to get that actively involved (I've been involved in various fandom groups over the years, and learned the lessons of small politicking etcetera that has made me gun-shy every since), I realized, I had only two options.  Hold the kind of event I wanted, or do without.  

So, I organized my first event ever.  With the help of a local shop who offered us their workroom (thank you Plush!), I organized a Steampunk Craft Meet in July this year ... approximately 14 months after the one that was my introduction to the steampunk events.  I posted it online, on the two local Facebook groups (one of which hadn't been active in several months, but still had members) in the hopes folks would attend.

I was hooked, and it seemed a success (those who came had a blast), so I scheduled another one to occur about 2 months later, and used photos of the stuff made at the meet as my event image.
Due to a local community split and polarity, I also decided to create a Facebook group, with the mind that it would be a bridge between the personal divides in the small community, and function as an old-school bulletin board, on which upcoming events that would appeal to anyone interested in steampunk could be posted (like Vancouver's Mini Maker Fair).  Hence Vancouverites for Steampunk was born on Facebook, an open group seeking to create a courteous and non-partisan atmosphere, in which people could communicate, discuss things, and promote, create, and encourage local steampunk activities.

I asked people on the funct and defunct local sites (I know, "funct" isn't a word - but it should be), including mine, what they wanted to see, and I got a lot of responses.  Having a book club was a big one, and some discussion happened online.  A couple of months passed, and nothing happened.  I saw the writing on the wall, and realized, if I didn't just pick a date and organize it, it wasn't going to happen.  So I did, contacting the main person whose idea it was, and choosing the book via an online poll, and picking a coffee house with a private room as location.  And voila, the Vancouver Steam Librarium & Consortium was created.
And so I find myself running a craft meet that occurs every 2 months (we've now had 3, and the next one coming up in January), and a book club that seems to go about every 6 to 8 weeks (3rd Consortium in January).  There is still periodic murmuring online about having regular casual get-togethers.  Murmurs that I've heard for months, with no one just saying, "Hey, how about next Wednesday at such-and-such."  So I figure, why not.  Just pick a date, book the room in that handy central coffee house.  So I do.  And the Coffee Klatches are happening now once per month, with our third one set for January.  
And then it occurs to me, around the end of October ... hold on ... I seem to be running a steampunk group.  In fact, I seem to be running the only one holding local activities.  And I seem to be the one organizing the activities.  

Isn't this what I wasn't wanting to do?  I just wanted to see stuff happening.  Not to run it all.  Um.  Oops.

And then comes an opportunity and invitation for the local steampunks to have a table at a local fantasy-oriented craft fair.  So I figure, why not.  It occurred to me, about a week after I made that decision, that this was going to involve far more than just showing up in costume with a smile.  I need ... promotional literature, like a pamphlet.  And a table display.  And a table cloth.  And people with me.  Yeep!  Fortunately, with the excellent assistance of a couple of very good friends in the steampunk community, and with suggestions from a steampunker with experience doing craft fairs (and hence on displaying things), we made it happen.  I lost about a month of my life, as I created and wrote a pamphlet and had various good folks review it for me, made a display from one of those school-science-project boards, and turned a thrift find into a literature display.  An excellent local steampunk and costumer made an awesome fitted table cloth and lent me a skirt for a costumed dress model.  Two friends did two awesome bits of Photoshop work at my request, for the group.  (More on the logistics and creation of the display in a separate post).  Two excellent individuals also dedicated their weekend to join me in working the table.
And so, the conclusion of this lengthy post ... is that having vowed otherwise, and originally planning only to provide a bulletin board, and the craft meets I wished to participate in, I seem to have proven that one can accidentally find oneself running a group and organizing the local events!   I am having fun being a local steampunk ambassador, talking to all and sundry who shows the smallest bit of interest, and I'm enjoying seeing new people show up to the various events, and come back!  The active pool of people is still very small, but it is growing, and I confess to hoping that after our weekend at the fair, we will continue to grow.  I am less happy that this has all personally cost me money (the table was free, but printing colour pamphlets was not, nor was making the display), and that this has absorbed so much of my time (both resources would normally have been all mine, and gone toward my own personal costuming and entertainments).  However, I do hope to recoup some costs, over time, if not the time (unless someone manages time travel).  And I have hopes that I can encourage others to host events, and run some things.

So beware ... in the course of pursuing your own fun and entertainment, you may find yourself, without warning, doing exactly what you had previously decided not to do. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Current Costuming Controversy: Commercial Mainstream Costumes

It never fails to fascinate, the various little controversies that ebb and surge in Steampunk (not the least being the very definition, but we will leave that tricksy little topic for another time).

The most recent controversy to cross my vision was regarding costuming, and it so riled me that it inspired me to write this.  So take warning, a rant follow!  The starting issue was a query on a Facebook Steampunk group, as to how steampunk folks would react, at, say, a steampunk convention, if they were to encounter someone wearing one of the popular-this-Halloween cheap "Steampunk" Halloween outfits.

For those who haven't seen these commercial costumes around, by the way, I will paste a few samples here:
These are from a range of Halloween online sites, such as Halloweenmart, BuyCostumes, PartyCity, Anytime Costumes, etc, and I've seen some bits in stores here and there.

My standpoint is, I would not have a problem encountering someone at a convention or event, wearing a Halloween steampunk costume.  Most likey, I would assume they are new to steampunk, or relatively new, and perhaps didn't have a lot of costuming experience.

Now, while many people seemed to feel similar, there were more disparaging comments than I expected, along the lines of "buying steampunk from a store is an abomination" and accusations about "lazy steampunks" (a phrase that truly made my eyes roll).

You know, I've seen an awful lot of people at conventions and other events, clearly wearing stuff they bought.  So, there are already "lazy steampunks" out there, solving their costuming and accessorizing quandaries by throwing money at it - so this is an unenlightening standpoint.  Though it is of benefit to those who can take advantage by making and selling their craft.  In addition, if you want to look at this from a historical point of view, buying off the rack is very Victorian ... the invention of the sewing machine in the mid-1800's made the Victorian era the first time people had the option to buy ready-made garments at department stores (versus having a garment made specially for you or making it yourself).
Pointing out that there are already "lazy steampunks" out there buying things prompted a defense along the lines that it's okay when one is buying from "reputable" craftsmen.  I'm sure some of these are "reputable" craftsmen.  I've seen them in dealers' rooms and online myself.  Their stuff is awesome.  But this is a vague phrase, and some of the online "reputable" stuff seems to be simply carefully sourced items, bought in bulk (and just as easily made in China as the cheap Halloween outfits), well-combined and sold "ensembles".  (And no, I don't have a problem with that either.)

However, I suspect that what really dictates whether folks buy the commercial Halloween stuff shown above, or the "reputable" goods from steampunk online companies and individual craftspeople, is money.  The commercial stuff in question, here, ranges around the $50 to $80 range for entire outfits.  And when I've priced outfits at the "reputable" steampunk concerns (quotes only because that's the word used to me), the range was from $350 to $600 and it only goes up from there, especially if you start adding accessories and gizmos, and corsets, shoes and boots.

Now, I can tell you, that while I've drooled over many exquisite items I've seen in the big steampunk companies online, and at Etsy, and in vendors rooms (oh gods the drooling I've done!), I can't afford most of it.  Or really, hardly any of it.  I took over a full day at my first steampunk convention to talk myself into a handmade hat that was over $100.  And that hat is now a favourite, well worth every penny spent on it, as it's a high quality, exquisite piece of work.  But I did not buy it lightly, and it took the most of my spending budget for that convention.

I am certainly not going to blame someone else for going the $50 commercial route, if it's available.  Not everyone can sew, or knows how to go thrifting to source all the pieces (just know the pieces you need to start is somewhat of a skill), nor does everyone have the abilities to modify thrifted and found items.  And certainly, not everyone can afford costumes in the $400 and up range.  Especially when you're starting out.

I am just happy when people make an effort at a convention or event, to dress up.  We all have to start somewhere.  I think it's absolutely fine for people to buy an inexpensive Halloween costume for a few cons or events, until they a) decide that they're willing to commit to to steampunk, and then either b) find people willing to help them thrift / make / sew outfits, or c) commit to spending big money.  Depending on where you live geographically, sourcing steampunk stuff or finding folks to help one out, becomes much harder.  What if someone lives in the country, nowhere near a steampunk group, and has to travel just to get to events?  Suddenly all one's money is going to just getting to events and staying there and eating, and there's not much left for shopping for costumes.  And finding people to help sew, hire for sewing, or to help demonstrate how to thrift, isn't always easy, even in the bigger centres.  

As far as I'm concerned, elitism will get everyone nowhere, and it only serves to destroy what steampunk is to me.

If someone is happy showing up in a cheap costume, because that's what they can manage, and afford, that's just fine.  If someone else doesn't like it, then they should kindly and politely offer help looking for thrifted items, and tips on modifying, rather than offer criticism and ostracize.  And if a body isn't willing to help someone with reasonable and affordable alteratives, or to help them make things, then maybe, just maybe, that person should keep their mouth politely shut.  

My steampunk is not about ostracism and being exclusionary.  We should be welcoming, and polite, and helpful, and open.  I would personally far rather see someone show up at any steampunk event wearing a cheap Halloween steampunk costume, than find out someone didn't show up at all because they didn't feel comfortable.  Making any attempt to dress up is better than no attempt at all.  Nor, for that matter, should we scoff at someone who shows up without a costume to an event, because they don't know what to do.  

My steampunk is friendly, and open, and non-exclusive.  I want to help people.  I may not have the money or time to make stuff for other people (I'm appalled at how long it takes me to complete something for myself!), but I can tell you, I'm willing to provide what help I can,  especially when it comes to thrifting, a pet hobby of mine.  

So there's my rant on this subject. 

On a side note, what does bug me about the commercial steampunk Halloween costumes I've mostly seen (in addition than their shoddy workmanship), is that women aren't offered the same level of "class" (if I can call it that) that the men's mass-produced outfits convey ... men get more dignity, women get the slutty outfits, by and large.  Unfortunately, that appears to be de rigeur among all mainstream Halloween costumes, and in fact, much of mass-produced clothing.  (And I don't have a problem with women deciding to go the slutty route - though I prefer my slutty costumes to have a touch of class - I just think women should have more options available, besides slutty.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fangirl Squeeing: Scott Westerfeld in Vancouver

So, with the inaugural convocation of the first Vancouver Steam Librarium & Consortium scheduled to discuss Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, imagine my delight upon discovering that Scott Westerfeld was scheduled to speak in Vancouver on October 11, a bare week after the book club meeting, as part of his tour for the third book in his trilogy, Goliath.
"Meet Scott Westerfeld" was hosted by Kidsbooks, with a ticket price of $5, redeemable against the purchase of one of his books, and there was a signing opportunity after the author spoke.  The crowd was mixed, mostly older kids, young adults, and parents, with a few avid young steampunk all dressed up!

I was most delighted to realize that Scott Westerfeld is an excellent speaker.  (Not all authors are good at getting up and talking to their fans.)  He discussed the Leviathan series at length, and also made references to his previous (non-Steampunk) series, the Uglies.

Along with sharing the information that the Leviathan books were inspired by the "boy's own adventures" that were popular in previous decades, and were written to provide an opportunity for girls to have their own adventures, the author also gave an interesting perspective into the place of artwork in fiction.

Previous to and throughout the Victorian era, adult books often included art, including the works of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.  This was a common feature which fell out of favour and was delegated to children's books, as photography came to prominence and replaced artwork in newspapers, magazines, and catalogues.  Book artists lost their bread and butter of commercial artwork, and as a result, faded.
Shown above are two illustrations (by Hugh Thomson and C.E. Brock) for Victorian editions of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, as well as one by  George Cattermole for Charles Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop.  Below is the frontispiece for the original printing of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
By deciding to include illustrations by Keith Thompson in the Leviathan series, Scott Westerfeld brings art back to our literature.  He completely dismisses the modern notion that illustrations belong solely to the sphere of books for young children.  And thank heavens for that.  Anyone who has seen these books has surely admired Keith Thompsons amazing illustrations.  If you want to peek at more of his art, his gallery is here.
Westerfeld discussed the unique relationship between himself and his illustrator, pointing out instances where they have pictured things differently, and times where Keith Thompson has inspired him to write scenes.  In order to ensure continuity when doing scenes on board Leviathan, Thompson apparently has drawn layout diagrams of the ship, which introduced Westerfeld himself to areas of the ship he hadn't even imagined (and then had to set scenes in, just because they were there).
Westerfeld announced at the event that there will be a fourth, supplementary book in addition to the Leviathan trilogy, which will utilize the layout diagrams and other behind-the-scenes artwork by Keith Thompson, to give fans a further view into the workings of the fabricated beasties and clankers of Westerfeld's and Thompson's alternative world.  I keenly anticipate the publication of this 4th supplementary art book, and will be keeping an avid eye out for further information and preordering!  How can one resist an entire book of artwork like this:
Keith Thompson's caricature map of the powers of Westerfeld's alternate 1914 world.

A piece of Clanker propaganda, drawn by Keith Thompson.
In summary, the evening with Scott Westerfeld was highly enjoyable and well worth attending.  My only regret was that I had lent my copy of Leviathan to a friend's son, so did NOT have it with me to get signed.  Though I did buy a copy of Behemoth, which I got signed.  I will await Goliath in trade format, which is easier to read on public transit!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vancouver Steam Consortium & Librarium: Steampunk Book Club Discusses Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Greetings everyone!

Apologies for the distinct lack of activity over the last couple of months - life has prevented me from having the time,  and more critically, the spare brain power to allow me to write here (or tinker as much as I'd like either!).  Alas, I lack minions upon whom I can toss all the menial and uninteresting tasks that periodically occupy more of my time.  (If anyone has spare minions, do let me know).

However, one of the things keeping me occupied has been my attempts at prompting more local steampunk events.  I started up a craft meet on a bimonthly basis, and so far have had one in July, one in September, and one is upcoming in early November. 

I also created and instituted the Vancouver Steam Librarium & Consortium, since a few like-minded keen readers expressed an interest in us having a local steampunk book club.  
I am organizing this through my Facebook group, Vancouverites for Steampunk, and our first meeting was in early October.  The book voted for the first discussion was Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld.
I faced various challenges starting this up: firstly, I have never attended a book club, let alone run one (though I do have a BA English Major), and secondly, there are not a lot of book club questions out there for steampunk literature (that I could find).  All I found for Leviathan were a few questions on E.M. Rowan's blog.
So I had to make up my own.  And, it occurred to me, as our consortium meets and discusses various books, perhaps I should post the questions here, for the benefit of others starting up Steampunk / Dieselpunk book clubs in their area.  So, good folks, I am including here:

Discussion Questions for Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan:

1.  Steampunk as literary genre:  Is Leviathan steampunk?  Or not?  Does it matter?  What makes it fit or fail the steampunk genre.

2.  Did the plot pull you into the book, or did it leave you cold?  Are you anticipating reading the sequels?

3.  Were the characters (Aleksandar, Deryn) sufficiently developed?  Were they engaging?  Realistic?

4. Were the illustrations an enhancement to Leviathan? What are your thoughts on the art?

5.  Was there anything unique or different about the setting that caught your attention?

6.  Any thoughts on the world created in Leviathan?  The Darwinist fabricated beasts versus the Clankers and Monkey-Luddites?

7.  What do you think of the time-period of Leviathan's setting, and of it being based around the reality of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria, and his wife, Sophie?  Would you have preferred an entirely fabricated world?

8.  Upon reading the cryptic ending of the book, what sort of beast can you conceive of, “no bigger than a top hat”, which could possibly keep an empire out of the War?

9.  What are your thoughts on reading Young Adult fiction as part of a book club? 

10.  Finally, on a scale of 1 to 5, rate Leviathan (1 is I hated it, 5 is I loved it, 3 is meh)

Let me know what you think of the questions.  Alas, for the first meeting of our Steam Librarium, of the four others who attended, only one other person had read the book.  Though, to be fair, when the others said they couldn't come as they hadn't read the book, I encouraged them to come anyway, so we could discuss the club in general, select the next book, etcetera.  And everyone had a good time. 

I will keep everyone posted on how this experiment in running a steampunk bookclub goes.  Our next book, as voted at the Consortium, is Soulless, by Gail Carriger, discussed in mid-November.

Does anyone have any feedback?  Questions?  Suggestions?  Has anyone started up a steampunk bookclub in your area or attended one?

Note: The book and glasses image which I am using for the Vancouver Steam Librarium & Consortium is borrowed from an archive post from at , until I manage to create an image of my own.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Innocent's Progress: A Foray into Steampunk Erotica

Greetings good folks.  Before we venture any further, I must point out that the subject matter of today's salon is a review of adult-oriented, hence, reader discretion is advised, and you may wish to move along to another post.  I shall give you a moment while I review my notes.
And now we can commence.  Feel free to have a cup of tea, or a sniff of something stronger, if you wish.  My automated valet can bring you something.  

My voyage through steampunk literature has recently brought me to The Innocent's Progress, by Peter Tupper, published in electronic format.  This is a collection of 6 short stories set in an alternate world of the author's devising.  This is no common set of erotic tales with minimal plot and excesses of sexual content, nor is it overdone steampunk riddled with gears and parasols; this is intellectual fiction, subtly written and focusing more on the people and the stories.  Several characters are interwoven through the tales, slowly drawing back the curtains around this Victorian-flavoured world.

The best part of this work, for me, is the slow reveal of this unique world, story by story.  Readers are first introduced to the Commedia, a form of theatre in which archetypes are performed on the stage, and privately performed offstage, for the pleasure of the audience.  One quickly realizes that dichomoties are rife in this world, as in Victorian England.  Performance and sexuality are blended and blurred in the Half-world of the actors, yet it is clearly unacceptable for them to stray, in any way, from the limited range of traditional archetypes.  Sexuality is quite acceptible within the Commedia, yet the Decency Board strives to remove the threat of pornography from society, to protect women and the lower classes. There are allusions to historical figures and works throughout the tales, which enhances the reading experience.  Peter Tupper even thoughtfully includes an Afterword, in which he gives background information and historical references for each tale.

My favourite story is "Delicate Work", where the reader is taken deep into the Honeycomb, an "Institution for the Reclamation of Wayward Women".  The Honeycomb is the Victorian workhouse writ very large and very dark.  In true Victorian fashion, this is where wayward women (those who do not live within the rigid and narrow boundaries defined by society) are "helped" by permanently hiding them out of sight.  The Honeycomb is seen through the eyes of Tangwen, one of the Tinker Girl inmates employed in producing technology for the world outside.  "Delicate Work" shows us the dirty, dystopian, dark side, which is all too often neglected in much of steampunk fiction.

There is one tale in the collection, "The Impurity", which differs from the others.  "The Impurity" is an imaginative retelling of the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde story, into which the author breathes new life.  I don't want to reveal the details here, but suffice to say, it is refreshing.

I recommend the reader look beyond the cover of Innnocent's Progress.  Peter Tupper takes the reader into a familiar yet foreign world, which is richly textured and multifaceted - part Victorian, part steampunk, part intellectual foray, part erotica.  If you wish to acquire this book yourself, the various forms and manner of procuring it can be found at Peter Tupper's site for Innocent's Progress.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Summer Hiatus Is at an End

To my horror I have realized that a month and a half have passed since my last entry.  This is what comes of it being summer, and life impeding the amount of time I can commit to online!  However, more posts will start shortly.  

One of the contributing factors to me lacking time to post (in addition to spending time outside in the sunshine, and getting to have an actual week of vacation in Halifax), is that I have started up a couple of local steampunk events, which have taken some effort in planning and organizing.

Along with getting a Facebook-based steampunk-event-bulletin-board group up and running, to share and spread word of steampunk and related events to locals (Vancouverites for Steampunk), I also have started up a Steampunk Craft Meetup (2 events so far, in July and early September) which I'm hoping will run regularly) and commenced a Steampunk Book Club (Vancouver Steam Librarium and Consortium - first meet booked for October).
Collage of creations crafted by various attendees at the First Steampunk Craft Meet
For local Vancouverites interested, I shall embed the Vancouverites for Steampunk Google calendar here:  

And, of course, I have a busy full-time job.  So it's been busy.  However, I'll be getting back into the swing of regular posts shortly!

Cheers all,

The Steam Wench

Friday, July 22, 2011

Inspiration and Resource: 1000 Steampunk Creations by Joey Marsocci

For any of you good folks who want to embark in the maker side of steampunk things, but are pehaps having a hard time finding inspiration, this is the book for you.
As a result of my love of books and my inability to stay away from, this little gem arrived in my post fairly recently.  Compiled by Dr. Grymm (Joey Marsocci), 1000 Steampunk Creations contains, well, precisely that: 1000 lucious colour photos of a mind-boggling variety of steampunk contraptions, clothes, jewelry, home decor, gadgets, accessories, artwork and scuptures, created by numerous steampunk artists and artisans.  
This book has done but I've been floundering to do for myself:  I have 1080 steampunk inspiration photos on my memory stick (categorized into 28 folders) which I have downloaded over the last couple of years.  I had even printed out a bunch of faves and partly assembled a Steampunk Scrapbook (with the idea of using it to bring to events as a "this is steampunk" book).  
I have pored over this book many times since it arrived - I can't get enough of perusing the smooth glossy pages and dreaming of the many awesome things portrayed within.  
This book has proven to be the perfect addition to my stack of stuff to bring to the local steampunk Craft Meets I have started holding (first one last week!), as it gives new folks and old-hands something to paw through while trying to figure out what to make (or, in the case of the new, a graphic illustration of what steampunk can be).

In my opinion, 1000 Steampunk Creations belongs in every dedicated Steampunk's walnut and brass library.  As do many of the items pictured therein.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Quick and Dirty: Quirky Thrifted Jacket Quirked even Further!

Hello folks!

At long last, I'm back and have the freedom to post!  Work has settled down into it's usual routine, and remain at it's usual pace until mid-September, when it ramps up for a bit.  Today is another "Quick and Dirty" post.  My goal, with these Quick and Dirty sections, is to demonstrate how useful it is to go thrifting - you find unique pieces for inexpensive and sometimes downrightdirt-cheap prices, and with just a little bit of thought, you can modify them for a steampunk outfit.  The trick is to learn to see the potential in garments, even if, sometimes (not in this case) they are spectacularly ugly.  My hope is that by demonstrating what I have done, if this isn't something you aren't used to doing, you can learn to see that potential lurking out there in your local thrift stores!  Also, I want to reiterate, that many of these projects require minimal sewing skills.

So, today, I want to show you a very quick and dirty modification of a very funky little jacket I was able to find at a thrift store.
Part of what attracted me to this quirky little piece (other than the fact it fit!) was the use of gold-coloured zipper as trim along the collar edge, and the sleeve pocket and bright green ribbon detailing, and the dangle-ties on the front pockets.
This piece had a tangerine and green ribbon tie (shown below hanging on the hanger) at an impossible spot to close it, for the female form (across the fullest part of the bust), so the very first thing I did, even before I took photos, was remove the tie and replace it with a fancy hook and eye closure in a much better location, under the bust.
And the big thing to really change up this jacket was to jazz it up with a nice, Victorian tassel trim.  I decided this should go around the collar (ensuring it still showed off the glitzy, punky, zipper trim) and at the sleeves, covering the seam where the cuffs attach.   I just used my sewing machine to attach the fringe trim to the collar (with a bit of handstitching at the ends) and sleeves.
I also ensured the trim ended just inside the jacket, so it was clean-edged and tidy when closed.
The tassel trim really changed the look of the jacket.
And with the addition of a winged trilobite pin on the collar (touch of Girl Genius - I admit I'm a fangirl), voila, the jacket is done and ready to wear as one of my steampunk pieces.
Comments?  Questions?  Suggestions?  Please feel free to leave them here!  And remember, if you want to start any steampunk or steampunk costuming discussions, please feel free to do so on the Steam Wench Salon's Facebook Page, where there is a place for discussions.