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.