You Should Read This: 6 Enjoyable Steampunk Titles

Steam punk girl with headphones

If you”re interested in my own steampunk writing, try “Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart”.

Steampunk continues to manifest as a genre, although it seems to me it’s not as relentless in its novelty as it used to be. Perhaps once you have reached the point of being parodied in a Key and Peale episode, you cannot claim to be cutting edge anymore? Not to mention that I’ve found steampunk jewelry making kits at the local craft store and the local Value Village flyers featured “How to Make a Steampunk Costume” along with Pirate, Vampire, Zombie, Superhero, and Sexy Barista.

I love the texture of steampunk and have been enjoying seeing continued riffs on a theme that has a long way to go before it’s played out. Here’s six that I’ve enjoyed in the past couple of years. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but each of these bring in aspects of other genres in a way that showcases how much life such a mixture can produce.

Clockwork Lives by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart The book description had me at “steampunk Canterbury Tales” and it’s got some of that adventure’s flavor as it moves along following the adventures of Marinda Peake as she strives to make her life worthy of her father’s legacy. I picked up the lovely hardcover version of the book, which is very prettily put together, complete with facsimile marbled endpapers, high-grade paper, and nice illustrations.

City of the Saints: A Scientific Romance in Four Parts by D. J. Butler There’s a frenzied genius to Butler’s cast of characters, which includes Richard Burton, Samuel Clemens, and Edgar Allen Poe, all turned into intelligence agents vying with each other and the agents of the Kingdom of Deseret against a background of a Utah transmogrified by the steampunk filter into something rich and tangily textured. This book is fun not just for the quick-paced story but as an alternate history that plays with a number of known characters in ways that only add to their legendary nature.

The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker. Buroker is a great example of what indie publishing can be. I came to her Emperor’s Edge series because she’d offered the first one free for the Kindle. Smart strategy on her part, because they’re fun fantasy romps that are addictive as crack, with a cast of characters that are entertaining and engaging, and a slow simmering love story that stretches out over the course of the series.

The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato. The Clockwork Dagger is the first of a series; the sequel appeared this June. Another strong romantic subplot, but the focus is the journey of Octavia Leander as she struggles to understand her growing healing powers. It’s an unexpectedly satisfying book, and I’ve got the sequel queued up and in my TBR pile.

Cold Magic by Kate Elliot. The first of a terrific trilogy, this combines epic adventure and steampunk as the orphaned Catherine Barahal travels through a pseudo-Victorian world caught up in the middle of social upheaval. One of the joys of big fat fantasy book series is knowing that you’re in for a good, long ride, and Elliott delivers that in spades. (And if you haven’t read her before, you’re welcome. She’s one of the underestimated fantasy writers, IMO.)

A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon. Kenyon writes some of the best social science fiction around, and here she turns that skill to steampunk. The warring countries of Anglica and Bharata meet on a mystical bridge that spans the sea distance between them, and the description of that mode of travel continues to resonate in my head as one of the most interesting landscapes fantasy has to offer.

Crooked by Richard Pett. Imagine Lovecraftian steampunk, with machineries of flesh and rot, and mysterious elixirs of immortality, and you might come close to Crooked. Eerie and wonderful, it’s a marvelous and chilling read that shows how steampunk Cthulhu can becomes.

And here’s a bonus that I ran across while researching links for this post, and found a must-buy: The Diabolical Miss Hyde, by Viola Carr. The description made it irresistible. I love books that pay tribute to classics by reworking them in interesting ways, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a particular favorite of mine. I’ve saving this read for sometime when I want to curl up and lose myself for a while.

#sfwaauthors #sfwaauthor

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Patreon Post: Talking in the Night

IMG_0557This is a quick little flash piece because I’m still mired in moving, and also one that stays on the literary side of things, not wandering into the speculative. Nonetheless, I like it, and what it has to say about connection and communication in relationships.

Talking in the Night

It started like this: Mona turned over in the bed, trying to find the cool edge of sleep. She let out a little groan of frustration and her husband patted her shoulder, caught half-awake, half-asleep himself. She whimpered as though she’d awoken from nightmare and he pulled her close, buried her in his overflowing warmth.

After that sometimes she tested him with that little noise. Sometimes he was too asleep but sometimes he held her, reassuring as the shore holding a wave, feeling it leave and return, leave and return, regular as his breathing.

“You make noises in your sleep,” he said at breakfast. “Are you having nightmares?”

“Every once in a while,” she said. She studied him. How would he react if he thought she were suffering nightmares, that life was stressing her, eroding her, creeping into sleep to make it as uneasy as a coffee-less morning? “Often.”

He left before she did and when she went out through the frosty parking lot, she found he’d scraped the ice off her car for her.

Sometimes she woke and spoke words into the night, hoping he’d decipher them. “No” and “yes” and “please please please.” He slid his arms around her, stroked her back, but never replied. Sometimes later he slipped from bed and went to watch TV, sitting on the couch in his robe, lost and unknowable while the sports channel buzzed facts and figures while she lay in the other room wondering what he was thinking.

One night, she said, “Yes” and he repeated it, giving it a question’s inflection. She held her breath, didn’t answer and they both lay there, listening to each other pretend to dream.

He spoke first, the next night, and said, “Please.” It was her turn to repeat it, pitch it upward, trying to elicit the next word. This time it was his turn not to answer.

It could have laid quiet after that forever. She could have abandoned the night speech, he could have chosen in turn not to pick it up. Their horizons could have been sleepless and silent.

But the next night he spoke and told her about the time his father had taken him fishing and the hook had ripped into his thumb and his father had said men don’t cry. The story went out into the blackness and coiled near the ceiling, peering down at them as though they were dolls in a bed, plastic and supine.

She answered.

She answered with a story half-remembered of cigar ash and a grandfather and they went on telling memories they’d never spoken before to anyone, the things that they would have dreamed if they were sleeping.

And so they didn’t sleep. And so they talked till dawn and the day that was theirs as it had never been before.

If you’re not a Patreon supporter but would like to be, here’s the page where you can find out more about that.

If you’re interested in my online writing classes, you can find out more about the live ones here or the new on-demand content here.

In recent news, Rappacini’s Crow as well as All the Pretty Little Mermaids both made Ellen Datlow’s longlist for the year’s best horror and my collaboration with Mike Resnick, The Mermaid Club, will be appearing in Conspiracy. Other upcoming work includes appearances in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Abyss & Apex, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

If you’re in Baltimore at the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend, please stop by the SFWA booth and say hi!

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WIP: Poppy and Letitia

flowersI finished up a story I’ve been wrestling with for the past week this afternoon. It’s for a game world, and it’s a fun one. I’m not sure why I had so much trouble with this one, but I rewrote the beginning four or five times, which is unprecedented for me.

Anyhow, here’s a chunk:
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Preparing to Move

movingWe are preparing to move and in some ways are inadequately prepared, while in others we are more than ahead. I hadn’t unpacked a good couple of dozen boxes from the study, so those can pretty much just go straight back out (this time we’re hiring movers rather than doing it ourselves).

It’s weird prepping to move again, to hope that this time we’ll manage to achieve escape velocity. We’ve got a renter for this place, and a year’s lease on the new one, so we’ll see. Today I’ll go through cupboards, try to sort out some stuff to pitch rather than take with us, take advantage of the opportunity to declutter and cull some old and faded spices, discard dingy rags, ditch old magazines, etc.

I have tried not to overburden us in preparation, to jettison instead, but there will be some things we’ll need to pick up once there: an ironing board and iron, a table for the sewing machine, a second bath mat, more towels, etc. Instead I’ve been mostly picking up bits for a Halloween costume this year; trying to do something worthy of a SFWA president. I did also breakdown and buy the sourdough its own crock, but that was because Value Village was having 50 percent off day.

I finished one collaboration last week and am picking away at finishing up a bespoke story right now, then more on the novel, because I am so ready for that to be done. I’m also working on the updated Creating an Online Presence for Writers as well as adapting the Character Building and Editing 101 classes for the Fedora platform to go with the shiny new on-demand version of Literary techniques for Genre Writers.

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Several New Classes, Plus On-Demand Content

mountains in the form of evening dress

mountains in the form of evening dress

I’ve just posted the latest round of classes, October through December, and wanted to call out a couple of highlights.

Because the Literary Techniques for Genre Fiction has been so much fun to teach, I’ve added a follow-up class with more techniques and lecture about sentence-level devices, Literary Techniques for Genre Fiction II.

Rachel Swirsky, one of the most talented writers I know, will be joining me for a special workshop, Re-Telling and Re-Taleing, focusing on drawing on mythology, fairy tale, and other common stories in one’s writing.

Because my friend Caren keeps telling me I should, I’ve added a Reading Aloud workshop to teach you how to pick and adapt work to read, how to prepare, and how to perform.

I’ve also added my first on-demand class, an amplified version of the Literary Techniques for Genre Fiction class on the Fedora Platform. My intent is to have on-demand versions of all of my existing classes plus some of the mini workshops I’ve done in the past up within the next six months. Stay tuned for an additional exciting project to be announced in December. 😉

If you want to be added to the mailing list for classes (1-2 mailings per month), fill out this form:

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My Report from Sasquan: Mostly Glorious and So Many Thank Yous

Picture of Cat Rambo

And we’re off!

For once I’m going to try to write a con wrap-up while it’s still (relatively) fresh in my head.

Caren and I arrived Wednesday evening and checked into the Davenport Grand, which was the same hotel as the SFWA Suite. We headed up there immediately after dumping up luggage to consult with SFWA Volunteers Extraordinaire Cat Greenberg and Terra LeMay. Heading out for food, we ran into the inimitable Ken Scholes, which was unfortunately just about the only time I saw him other than in passing at the con. After that I hung out in the SFWA suite for a while but we went to bed pretty early, since I knew it was going to be a long convention.

Thursday morning started with early AM swapping back and forth of mail about SFWA stuff and then I wandered down to Stroll with the Stars, where I saw some of my very favorite people in the world and met lots of new friends. Spokane was beautiful along the river — lots of visual interest and pretty things. Stu Segal led the amble while David Gerrold, Vonda N, McIntyre, Lawrence M. Schoen, Stphen Segal and Tom Smith were fellow walkers.

After that I went off to the board meeting. Thank you for coming, Jenn Brozek, Susan Forrest, Matthew Johnson and Susan Pinkser, as well as to Kate Baker and Bud Sparhawk for being willing to attend virtually. While the SFWA board meets sort of continuously in the form of a discussion forum on the SFWA boards, it’s nice to meet face to face and get to talk about things quickly. Because there wasn’t a full assemblage of us, we just did it in one of the SFWA suite rooms, which seemed to work well and saved us money, which I always approve of. I had to duck out of the meeting and go off and talk to the con folks after lunchtime about a table issue (this was not the smoothest con we’ve ever had, particularly with hotel difficulties, but we muddled through.)
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Retreat, Day T-7

picture of a sleeping cat

Willow, sleeping in her net.

It feels like I have been here a shorter time than I have, but it’s been great and I have gotten so much work done. I’m filling in gaps on Hearts of Tabat right now and happy with its progress. I wrote a bunch of stories and one poem. I walked on the beach and among the redwoods, and I got to spend time petting a bunny, and watching deer. I saw a grey fox and a barn owl swooping along late at night and covey after covey of quail, including a mama with six bitty little perfect quail running as fast as they could to keep up with her. Tonight I’ll lie out under the stars and watch the Perseid meteor shower from probably the best vantage point I’ll have in my life.

I spend literally less than a day at home, then get a haircut in the morning and head off to Sasquan in Spokane with my bestie, the fabulous Caren Gussoff. I’ve posted my convention schedule here, and if you’re wondering what sort of SFWA events I’ll be attending, here’s a video about that:

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Patreon Story: Snakes on A Train (Steampunk)

Fantasy scene with steampunk style in the forest

Fantasy scene with steampunk style in the forest

Hello! If you’re new to this blog, this story is part of my Patreon campaign, which you can support here.

This story is a prequel to Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart; I’m working on a third involving Elspeth and Artemus. Other stories in this world include Rappacini’s Crow and Clockwork Fairies.

Snakes on a Train

Elspeth folded her hands in her lap, trying to keep her brows from knitting. She hated trains.

They were dirty, with bits of smut and coal blown back from the massive brass and aluminum steam engine pulling them along, and engrimed by successions of previous passengers.

They were noisy, from the engine’s howl to the screech of the never-sufficiently-greased axles as they rocketed along the steel rails with their steady pocketa-pocketa-pocketa chug seeping up through the swaying floor.

And they were oppressively full of people, all thinking things, all pressing down on her Sensitive’s mind, making her shrink down into the hard wooden seat as though the haze of thoughts hung like coal-smoke in the air and if she sank low enough, she’d avoid it.

She glanced over at her fellow Pinkerton agent, who returned her look with his own slightly quizzical if impersonal gaze. All of the curiosity of their fellow passengers was directed at him, perhaps the first mechanical being they’d ever seen, with silver and brass skin and curly hair, eyebrows, and moustache of gilded wire.
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Retreat, Day 25

Picture of a page of writing

Tomorrow’s online class is Delivery and Description. Click here for details.

Today’s wordcount: 3001 (so far. plenty of daylight left.)
Current Hearts of Tabat wordcount: 119954
Total word count for the week so far (day 6): 23568
Total word count for this retreat: 70229
Worked on Hearts of Tabat, “Moderator,” untitled piece
Works finished on this retreat: “California Ghosts,” “My Name is Scrooge,” “Blue Train Blues,” “Misconceptions of Gods and Demons”
Taught week 3 of the Writing F&SF stories class, prepping to teach Delivery & Description tomorrow.

We have no water at the moment, or at least a pump is broken and we must conserve what we have in case of fires. Hopefully fixed soon, but I drove into Santa Cruz this afternoon and had a nice chat with the guy at the Pure Water store, who recommended all sorts of local places and doings.

I have been reading and reading here. I was watching no TV but Wayne and I usually watch Big Brother each year, so we started watching it while he was here and now have been watching it together while Facetime-ing. Yes, we are huge geeks.
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Retreat, Day 22

coffeeToday I am letting myself slack a little, feeling caught up from the weekend’s excesses and so I can game tonight.

Today’s wordcount: 2592
Current Hearts of Tabat wordcount: 119954
Total word count for the week so far (day 3): 13568
Total word count for this retreat: 60229
Worked on Hearts of Tabat, “Moderator,” untitled piece
Works finished on this retreat: “California Ghosts,” “My Name is Scrooge,” “Blue Train Blues.”
Time spent on SFWA email, discussion boards, other stuff: 45 minutes

From the untitled piece:

The magician gestured, and out of the pool came musicians, the very first thing the tip of a flute, sounding, so it was as though the music pulled the musician forth, accompanied by others: grave-eyed singers and merry drummers; guitarists and mandolinists with great dark eyes in which all the secrets of the moon were written; one great brassy instrument made of others interlocked, so it took six to play it, all puffing away at their appointed mouthpiece, and all of them bowed down to the priestess who stood watching, her sand-colored eyes impersonal and face stone-smooth.

“Very pretty,” she said, and yawned with a feline grace, perhaps even accentuating the similarity in a knowing way with a tilt of her head.
The magician smiled, just as catlike, just as calm. “You can do better, I am sure,” he said.

She shrugged, her manner diffident, but rather than reply, she pursed her lips and whistled. Birds formed, swooping down, and wherever they swooped, they erased a swathe of the musicians, left great arcs of nothingness hanging as the seemingly oblivious players continued, their music slowly diminishing as they vanished, the instruments going one by one, and the last thing to hang, trembling in the air, was an unaccompanied hand, holding up a triangle that emitted not a sound.

Landing, the birds began to sing, and though the music was not particularly sweet, there was a naturalness about it that somehow rebuked the mechanical precision of the song theirs succeeded. As they sang, more and more birds appeared, and the music swelled, washing over the pair where they stood, like a river.

The priestess patted the air with the flat of her hand and the birds winked out of existence, leaving the two of them in a great white room, the antechamber of her temple.

“Will you go further in, then?” she said, and her voice was still casual.

The magician’s eyes were green as new grass and the black beard on his chin, which grew to a double point, was oiled and smelled of attar-of-roses. He considered her as though this was the smallest of debates, and finally stepped forward.

“We are still evenly matched,” he said.

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