Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

My first steampunk novel!

“…and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.” This is excerpt from the back of the book “Soulless” by Gail Carriger and while all the “he’s so hot” adjectives left me cold, the idea of Queen Victoria employing a werewolf made me sit up straighter. What? Wwhhhaaaatwhoooooohooooowww?  What?Who?How? are the first questions for falling into true book love and I rushed out to buy myself a copy. I’m never one to resist falling for a book. My library and husband can both attest to this.
So I went and found and was thrilled to find that “Soulless” is only available in mass market paperback. Mass markets are smaller, cheaper and so easy to carry around and to hold while reading. I took my copy home and began and was surprised to find…
A strong, self-assured and cranky heroine. She joked and verbally clawed at everyone and my, how refreshing it was. Now there’s other things about this book too, like steam punk professors with special eyeglasses that clink through various lenses and copies of writing made with metal and the fact that the supernaturals like vampires and werewolves have all come out and have helped England become the mighty Victorian superpower that it was and all this is good and exciting…but what really got me was Alexia Tarabotti, soulless female extraordinaire. She bops ill-wishers with a weighty parasol and fights with her skirts and infinite petticoats so she may fight others. You try kicking someone hard with one of those huge Victorian dresses on and all the myriad of layers it cocooned the wearer in! Yes, exactly. The dress must be conquered so that the enemy may be.
She has a caustic tongue, lives with her family but does her best to not be in it and is lonely for companionship on so many levels. With someone like that, there’s bound to be adventures and there is. I hate to give away the plot so I won’t but it’s chock full of zany characters and lots of fun suppositions come to life.
There is only one thing about this book that I regret and that while it’s a fun and zippy read (dirigibles anyone?), I was hoping for a little bit more substance. There’s evil but it’s rather absurd and everyone’s rather mean for the most part but I wanted something nuanced to chew on, be it morality or whatever. This is not that book, ah well. Still tho’, I’m ready to be on to the next!

Also…I find it odd this is my first steampunk novel…I dressed steampunk for years without even knowing it. And of course, I always feel pretty much at home while reading Victorian lit. hmmm.

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How to Get Through a Big Book

How to get through a Big Book and have a little fun too.

  1. Make and eat food mentioned in the book (big books always include food, usually in meticulous detail).
  2. Read a little bit each day.
  3. Make a soundtrack.
  4. Dress like a character from the book for a day. Or a week. Or a month if it really grabs you.
  5. Ten minutes to kill? Daydream about the landscape or what the characters are seeing as they move through their day.
  6. Read passages you enjoy out loud. If you’re in the right mood, record yourself reading passages and share it (Instagram is great for this). Include illustrations if you like (thank you, Shirin).
  7. Whip out a highlighter or some sticky tabs for those great parts.
  8. Pace yourself and remember, reading gigantic books isn’t a race. It’s about the journey. Might as well bring along snacks, good drinks, great lighting, and enjoy the ride.

How to Search for Story Settings

A big city not far from mine has a casino. I’ve heard a few stories from friends that have worked there. Most center on being treated badly by a customer and revenging themselves by throwing the customer’s car keys into the Fox River. Karma is enacted on a regular basis at the casino.

There’s something about that river, flowing by, murky green during the day and black at night, a bottomless pit for car keys.

The river divides the city in half, east to west. The Fox flows along the old warehouses, limestone and brick, built back when the city had manufacturing plants and industry. Now the warehouses sit sturdy and silent, crumbling ever so slowly. Their roofs are flat and give the illusion of brick walls running straight into the sky. Some were built like prosaic wedding cakes, higher and higher, until the final topping is small square with tiny windows. Industry has never been about aesthetic needs and wants.  And yet by some miracle, these old turn of the century warehouses have achieved it just the same.

I observed the warehouses from the back deck of the riverside café, clutching my cup of earl grey and wishing I had put sunscreen on. It was the first time I had ever been to this café and I came because I needed a new setting for a fiction story I was working on. None of the cafes I remembered from the past were working for me. I needed this kind of café, one that hung out in an old manufacturing city where there wasn’t much industry left. There was, at least, a casino and many local businesses and this café hung on, here at the water’s edge.

A little further up was the casino where my friends had thrown those keys into the water. From my point on the deck, I could see the grimy metallic white heel of the building jutting out. Another friend told me that he goes there regularly to play black jack. It relieves stress and earns a little extra cash for his family.

The wind picks up a little and despite the sun, it’s chilly. Spring plays these tricks on us.

There is no sign of life in the warehouses all around me. We’re all boxed in together and the light plays off their empty windows, open and blank to the sun. I sip some tea and play “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin just to see if this café will work for my story. It only takes a few bars of listening to the song and I know that this place is perfect. This spot on the river is perfect for many stories. It’s  been perfect for all the stories I know nothing about and the ones that I’ve caught the smallest glimpses of.

A mallard suns himself in the weeds that line the water’s edge. The river moves fast and sure and I turn off the music. No need to for further noise. The song is already there.