Tag Archives: Steampunk

Review of All the King’s-Men by Adam Dreece

All the King's-Men

I’ve been a fan of Adam Dreece’s The Yellow Hoods series since I read the first book, Along Came a Wolf. The series has a fun, upbeat style, with some brilliant kids who get into all kinds of danger and have to use their ingenuity and a variety of unique inventions to survive. The series is labeled as “An Emergent Steampunk Series” because a lot of the steampunk technology we see in the books is brand new, being developed by the characters as the series progresses. It’s very interesting to see so many inventions being unveiled, rather than having a world where such things already exist.

This book focused a lot on a developing conflict where it seems the villains are planning to use their newly developed technology to start conquering less-developed nations. There’s also an interesting subplot where at least one kingdom has an old law that outlaws inventors and innovation, unless the inventors work for the government. This leads to a sort of secret society of inventors who have to keep their works hidden, for fear that they’ll be arrested for developing potentially dangerous technology. A lot of the tale is centered around a group of people trying to keep the plans for a new type of steam engine from falling into the wrong hands.

Compared to the previous books, All the King’s-Men takes on a bit of a darker tone. In Along Came a Wolf, the central main character, Tee, was a preteen girl who got into trouble with some unsavory characters, and she and her friends had to work together to save the day. By the time we reach the third book, the characters are a bit older, their enemies are more dangerous, and there are darker twists and more violence and bloodshed. The stakes are also a lot higher, with a war brewing, assassinations taking place, governments being overthrown, and betrayal around every corner.

The only complaint I have about this volume is that with the expansion of the conflict, it sometimes seems that there are too many characters and too many subplots, which makes it a bit harder to follow a central storyline. There were a few times where I started to mix a couple of characters up, simply because there were so many characters engaged in different branches of the plot. This didn’t detract from the writing style itself, which is quite strong. But it does make it so that All the King’s-Men works best as one bridge in an ongoing series, rather than as a standalone novel. It would definitely be best to pick up the first books in the series before this one, in order to keep up with everything that’s been going on.

You can find the book on Amazon, or through the author’s webpage (where you can also order autographed copies). You can also connect with Adam Dreece on Twitter.


Review of Breadcrumb Trail by Adam Dreece

Dreece-YellowHoods02CoverI just finished reading Breadcrumb Trail, the second book of The Yellow Hoods by Adam Dreece. It was a fun story, with entertaining characters, and some pretty interesting steampunk-style gadgets and inventions along the way.

The story centers around a group of young teens who call themselves “The Yellow Hoods.” They’re all bright, resourceful kids who can handle themselves in a fight, racing through the woods on sail-powered carts and using electric shock sticks to duel against sword-wielding soldiers. The Hoods get drawn into a conflict between two secret groups of inventors that are manipulating events from behind the scenes, plus there’s a war brewing in the south, a group of dangerous red-hooded outlaws kidnapping children, and a conspiracy to steal the secret plans to the world’s first steam engine.

The writing style is upbeat and fun, with a sense of swashbuckling adventure behind a lot of the action scenes. There’s also a lot of subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to fairy tales and fables, from Tee’s grandfather putting on a red coat and handing out toys during Winter Solstice, to the home of the Ginger Lady and her kids, Hans, Saul, and Gretel. Add in a few puns here and there, and the story gives you plenty of chuckles during the more lighthearted moments, though there’s definitely a dark side to some of the conflicts.

The pacing of the story could use a little work, with some of the chapters feeling too short, or some conflicts being resolved before there had been enough tension built up. There were some moments that felt like they were building up towards some good dramatic tension, but some of the impact of that tension can be lost when a chapter ends without hitting the right “cliffhanger moment.” This didn’t take away from the fun of the story, but it did lead to most of the story having a more casual pace, rather than the high-energy, action-packed pace it achieves at certain points.

All in all, the book was fun, entertaining, and intriguing. The inventions and gadgets show a lot of style, from electric shock gloves to compressed air cannons to a rocket-powered whirly-bird. And Tee and her friends are characters you really end up rooting for.

Guest Post: Creative History: On Building Deviltry

Today’s post is a guest blog post by my friend, Steph Lehenbauer. She’s recently published a really awesome novella about a kick ass Native American woman who is a ship captain/space cowgirl who kicks a lot of ass. Deviltry is the first novella in a series that is part Western, part Firefly, and a whole lot of excellence. I’ve read it, I loved it, and I suggest you read on to learn more about it, then go check it out for yourself.

Hello, Jason’s blog readers. It is I, the Batman!

WAIT NO. Not again. Damn it, I’ve got to stop that. My name is Stephanie, AKA S.E. Lehenbauer. I am the author of Deviltry, the first novella of in my space western series. The stories follow the adventures of the spacecraft Wanderlust and her crew.

Jason’s been kind enough to let me take over his blog today, to talk about world building. Specifically, world building around real history. Deviltry takes place in the 1860s, but it’s definitely not the same world as we know it. Earth is now Terra Fragmentum, a collection of small planets held together in Earth’s old place by the gravitational pull of the moon. (Ah, the creative liberties we can take with science.) These frags are the remnants of Earth, after being attacked by aliens roughly 40 years before our story begins.

So, it’s still Earth, kind of. They are still the same countries (for the most part), and the cultures are still quite similar to what they were in the 1860s. However, contact with aliens introduced humanity to space travel, to an alien internet system that people use but don’t understand yet, to advances in machinery and medicine. It’s Wild Wild West meets Farscape, in a way.

The tricky part of this kind of world building is cherry-picking from real history. Using historical figures, places, events, and so on, is a great way to ground your fantasy world. Steampunk books almost always mention Queen Victoria for this very reason—just that simple mention of a real figure we all have some awareness of instantly sets the groundwork in a reader’s mind. But due to the geography or cultural upset in your story, you may not be able to keep everything.

For example: I knew that I would be focusing quite a bit on Native American culture and history, so I chose to keep as many events related to the tension between American settlers and Native Americans as I could. Sally’s parents, Kit Carson and the Cheyenne woman Making-Our-Road were real people who were really married for a time (although as far as my research could tell they never had a child). I turned up some interesting facts about Carson’s involvement with the Mexican-American war, and because it gave significance to an event in Sally’s fictional life, I also kept as much of that war as I could.

However, the American Civil War has been completely erased from our history. (In fact, the stories take place during what would have been the Civil War years.) The reason for that is two-fold: first, America is divided into two separate frags. For a world that has only just discovered and begun to use spacecraft, a war between frags doesn’t seem plausible. The other reason is more complicated. When I divided up the world into frags, I just sort of took a marker to a printed map and damned the consequences. Whatever got a line drawn through it was what got blown up. The southern United States and Mexico didn’t end up with very much water (like, hardly any at all…it’s been a huge annoyance to write around), so the economic make-up of America is very different. One of the biggest factors in the Civil War was the fact that the South was the main source of agriculture, while the North was industrializing. Without water, the South can hardly be the agricultural center it was in real history; so with that factor gone, the War became even more difficult to account for.

In addition to deciding which parts of history go or stay, you must also consider how real-life events would have been shaped by the factors in your new world. In real-life London, there was indeed a Reform Act of 1832. It was an Act of Parliament that made changes to England’s electoral system. In my story, I needed a political movement that would set up the nation of Seachrist: the single moon-based territory of Terra Fragmentum. The concept of Seachrist came from the minds of a few upper-class English families, and the timing of the act was perfect, so I borrowed it. Now the Reform Act of 1832 was a declaration by Parliament to colonize the moon. That little bit of truth within the lie gives my fictional world enough familiarity to create that groundwork I mentioned earlier.

Being a student of history is incredibly helpful to an author. It can, at times, also become a great source of procrastination as you spend weeks picking what stays and what goes. Not that I did that. Definitely not. The single piece of advice I might have would be to narrow your focus as much as possible. I knew that I’d be visiting certain countries and nations within the Wanderlust’s adventures, so I kept my focus to just those places’ histories. When I could, I narrowed it down farther to specific states or cities. (When a shiny thing about the development of Alaska popped up in my research, I had to firmly sit it down and say, “No. I’m not going to Alaska. There’s just no time. I’m sorry Alaska, you will just have to go without.” I filed the shiny fact away for something else and went on.)

Thanks for letting me crash your joint! You’re all invited to the Batcave any time. Earlier this month, I was at the Ravenhart Press blog discussing the ideas of diversity within Deviltry; if that’s something you are interested in, please check it out!

Deviltry is out now from LARRIKINbooks at most major booksellers. (Buying the paperback copy at Amazon nets you the Kindle version for free!) You can find more information and links at my website, www.selehenbauer.com/books/.

Research: What Counts as a Source?

I’m enrolled in Rowan University’s Master’s in Writing graduate program. I’m currently working on my master’s thesis project, a project which represents the bulk of my final year’s work. The requirement of the thesis is a 30,000 word written work (or equivalent, as some students are pursuing research-heavy academic projects that will come in at lower word counts for the same amount of effort). The type of project is open-ended; some students are writing memoirs or nonfiction pieces, others are doing academic research, and others are writing novels. I’m using the thesis project to write the sixth book in the Arcana Revived series, following the stories of Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, who made their debut appearances in my first novel, Manifestation.

Part of the thesis project, in addition to writing the novel itself, is creating an annotated bibliography of the sources that informed or inspired my work. In the case of a creative work of fiction, such as mine, this can include the works of fiction that inspired me or where I drew some of my ideas from.

But what counts as a “source” in this context? Well, the professor is pretty open minded about that. Our sources can include, among other things, books, movies, news articles, poetry, and in my case, webcomics and video games.

Some of my sources are, naturally, fiction novels:
Jordon, R. (1990-2013). The Wheel of Time. New York, NY: Tor.
Anthony, P. (1977-2014). The Xanth Series. New York, NY: Del Rey, Tor.
Hickman, L., Hickman, T., & Weis, M. (1984-2014). Dragonlance. New York, NY: Random House.
Roberts, R. (2014). Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain. Virginia: Curiosity Quills.
Boswell, H. (2012). Mythology. United States: Artemathene Books.

I listed the various novels that have influenced me in different ways. In some cases, they influenced the way I write about magic (The Wheel of Time, Xanth). In other cases, they influenced how I write about specific elements in my series such as steampunk-style inventions (Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain) or angels and demons (Mythology). Or even how I’m structuring the different novels and collections in my series (Dragonlance). I deliberately chose a wide variety of sources in order to show the various ways that my work has built off of what came before me.

Some books, naturally, aren’t going to be works of fiction:
Stein, S. (1995). Stein on Writing. London: St. Martin’s Press.

In this case, it’s a book on writing techniques that greatly informed the way my novel is written, from the character descriptions, to the dialogue, to the way the chapters are laid out. These variables are as big of an overall influence as any specific works of fiction that inspired me.

But what about a book that, well, isn’t exactly something you’d expect to see cited in a bibliography?:
Martin, J. & Rateliff, J. (Eds.). (2003). Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast.

That’s right. I’m citing the DMG, because it taught me a lot about world-building, from designing my cities to developing the politics and culture of my world. I also drew from concepts of the multiverse and various parallel dimensions, which are common D&D tropes. My characters explore some alternate dimensions where the laws of physics aren’t quite what you’d expect, and my designs of those dimensions were heavily influenced by the DMG.

And, of course, there’s another book that I drew heavily from:
God. (1400 B.C.). The Holy Bible. Moses (Ed.) Manuscripts written while children of Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years after the Exodus.

Yes, I’m serious and yes, that’s how I’m citing it in my bibliography. That’s correct APA format for citing a book edited by someone other than the author (Moses transcribing God’s words). And I’m quite serious about the importance of the bible in my writing. My main character, Gabby Palladino, is very religious. Over the course of the novels she’s struggled with falling prey to the seven deadly sins, she’s worried about the state of her immortal soul, and she’s sought guidance frequently through prayer. And from her own persona guardian angel.

But what about sources that aren’t actually books?:
Foglio, K. & Foglio, P. (2000-2014). Girl Genius. Retrieved from http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/

Girl Genius is a webcomic that heavily influenced my other main character, Tock Zipporah. Many of her personality traits as a mad scientist/inventor are based on Agatha Heterodyne, protagonist of the Girl Genius series. Without reading that series, Tock wouldn’t be who she is today.

Then, of course, there’s movies and TV shows:
Johnson, M., Steuer, P., & Adamson, A. (2005). The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. United States: Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media.
Whedon, J., Greenwalt, D., Noxon, M., Kuzui, F., & Kuzui, K. (1997-2003). Buffy the Vampire Slayer [Television series]. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox.
Kring, T., Hammer, D., Arkush, A., & Beeman, G. (2006-2010). Heroes [Television series]. Philadelphia, New York: NBC Universal Television Distribution.
Todd, J., Todd, S., & Nolan, C. (2000). Memento [Motion picture]. United States: Summit Entertainment.

I drew different types of inspiration from these different shows and movies. Memento is a heavy inspiration for my newest major character, Jaden Farrell, who suffers from severe memory problems. The Chronicles of Narnia influenced Gabby Palladino, who, as you can see here, is modeled after Susan Pevensie, played by Anna Popplewell. And Buffy and Heroes influenced me as works with superheroes and supernatural forces fighting in grand struggles for the fate of the world.

One last source, of course, might be the one that stands out the most:
Sakaguchi, H., Kitase, Y. & Ito, H. (1994). Final Fantasy VI [Super Nintendo game]. United States: Square Enix.

Yes, I’m citing Final Fantasy in the bibliography for my master’s thesis project. I’ve mentioned the influence Final Fantasy has on my writing before, starting with the concept of magic returning to a world that had lost it. Some of the Final Fantasy summoned monsters, like Shiva, Leviathan, Quetzalcoatl, and Titan, also influenced the types of monsters that appear in my later books. In fact, this video game was probably the most important and influential source of all, more than any of the books I’m citing.

It just goes to show that inspiration can come in a variety of forms. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t draw on unorthodox sources in your research. What you find might just surprise you.

mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Dapper Hats and Bodycounters

Friday night, I attended the Monster Mania Convention at Crowne Plaza Hotel, Cherry Hill, NJ. It was the first time I’ve ever been to any kind of convention, despite how much I’ve wanted to go for years. Any time I had the opportunity in the last few years, I was always working all weekend when the con was being held. Being unemployed gave me a bit of an advantage this time since it means I have weekends off.

I attended with my friend and fellow Rowan University grad student, Kaitlin Zeilman. She’d been to this con several times before, and some of her other friends were on a first name basis with half the vendors. Since it was my first time, I didn’t know what to expect. I definitely found it an educational experience.

The first thing I did was peruse the vendor tables. There was a wide selection of clothing, jewelry, and accessories, many of them handmade. There were all kinds of collectibles, ranging from horror movie memorabilia (given that it was a horror movie convention), to other geek-culture collectibles from Star Trek, Doctor Who, Batman, and plenty of other comic books and video games. There were also some rather swanky steampunk items for sale, and I ended up walking away with a rather dapper hat sold by Steampunk Works.

Perfect for piloting your airship and/or steam-powered war machine.
Perfect for piloting your airship and/or steam-powered war machine.

There were a number of celebrities in attendance. My friend got an autograph from Verne Troyer, Michael Berryman, and a couple of other stars. There were a few horror movie stars there, as well as some cast members from The Walking Dead. I also saw Denise Crosby, and while she was most likely there because of her appearances on The Walking Dead, I’ve always been a fan of hers from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Also in attendance were Adam West and Burt Ward, also known as the original TV’s Batman and Robin. Rumor has it that Adam West threw some sort of tantrum at his signing table; he ended up leaving the floor after only about an hour, and wasn’t seen again. Though there were some classic pieces of Batman history parked out front:

The insurance policy on the Batmobile is worth $1,000,000
The insurance policy on the Batmobile is worth $1,000,000
Autographed by Julie Newmar.
Autographed by Julie Newmar.

Of course, not everything at the convention was comic books, superheroes, and undead. Not for me, at least. There was an unexpected personal encounter that I wasn’t quite prepared for.

I don’t often mention my family on the blog. There’s a reason for that. I’m not on speaking terms with most of them. I still talk to my dad and we go on fishing trips and do the whole male bonding thing. But I also have an older and a younger sister, neither of which I’ve spoken to in seven years. I’m not inclined to go into details about that story right now, but I can relay the short version.

My older sister and I shared a townhouse for about a year and a half from 2006-2007. I moved out when I got involved with a girl and we decided to move in together (she and I ended up being together for four years). I gave her a little over a month’s notice and paid my share of the rent until the end of July that year. My sister unloaded a fair bit of anger at me when I asked if I might leave my computer there for an extra week after the end of the month, since I didn’t have internet access in my new place, and I needed internet access to pay my bills online. The request prompted a deluge of complaints, a refusal of the favor, and a demand that I finish vacating the premises and return my key. I did so, leaving with the distinct impression that I would not be welcome to return. I waited to see if there would ever be an invitation to come back over, such as for the weekly dinner gatherings my sister and a circle of friends had there every Thursday. I was never invited back. That was seven years ago.

I’m no longer angry at my sister, nor am I holding any sort of grudge. I’ve simply accepted that she doesn’t want me in her life, and I have no inclination to put forth the effort required to rekindle our relationship. Which made things especially awkward when I found out she was running a vendor table at the convention. Dana runs a website called Bodycounters.com. The purpose of the site is to watch movies and count the number of dead bodies, including humans, animals, aliens, and even dead relationships. They chronicle the totals on the website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (as of this writing, the movie with the greatest total body count is Melancholia, with a total of 7,021,836,029 dead by the end of the movie). Obviously this is a fitting site to be represented at a horror convention, and the Bodycounters have a wide range of merchandise for sale. Though I was still caught off guard when I walked right past her vendor table without any clue that she was going to be there.

I gave serious consideration to approaching the vendor table, but frankly, accidentally crossing paths at the Monster Mania Con didn’t really strike me as the best way to approach someone I haven’t spoken to in seven years. I ended up simply avoiding that end of the vendor room for the rest of the night, and I’m not certain whether or not she saw me the one time I walked by. If she did, she seemingly also decided not to make contact.

So that’s the story of my first ever convention experience. I saw the Batmobile, Denise Crosby, and Verne Troyer; I bought a very dapper hat; and I had the biggest surprise of the year when I saw my sister. If nothing else, it was an interesting experience. Though I’m definitely glad that Adam West was the one who caused a scene and stormed out, instead of it being my family drama that made a scene.

Writing Tip: Out with the New, In with the Old


Image Source: By ChiefRanger from Hollywood (steampunk-computer) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

We live in the modern world (well, duh).  A lot of the writing we do is set in a modern-day setting.  Yet when writing fiction, or historical nonfiction, there are many times when you might be writing about a setting that has a great many differences from what you know and are familiar with.  In order to keep such writing believable, it’s important to avoid clashing with language that is ‘too modern.’  That doesn’t mean Ye Must Speaketh Inne Ye Olde Tongue, but it does mean that sometimes, depending on your setting and genre, it’s important to avoid using too many modern references.

There’s two main areas where I tend to see this sort of mistake made.  The first is in anything set in the past, which in a fantasy setting is most commonly a medieval or renaissance period.  Obviously it’s important to be historically accurate (such as, for example, knowing when gunpowder was invented before deciding whether or not to include it in your work).  But I’m not here to discuss historical accuracy.  Rather, I’m referring to modern references that can jar the reader out of the work.

A simple example would be something like referring to a character’s chaotic life as something like “a never-ending roller coaster ride.”  Obviously, if the setting of the story is before the invention of roller coasters, then such a modern invention shouldn’t be referenced at all– even in the narrative text.  This can not only make the phrase seem out of place, but it can result in a shift in perspective (from 3rd person limited to 3rd person omniscient).  In most stories, unless you’re choosing an omniscient perspective, it’s important only to refer to things that the character knows and understands.  Accidental point-of-view-shifts tend to be most common with things like having one character reference another’s thoughts or emotions, since those are things the character you’re narrating wouldn’t ‘know’ (unless they’re some sort of psychic, which is common enough in fantasy writing).  But it can also still break the point of view when the narrative text refers to things that could only exist outside the story’s setting.

This also applies to pop culture references.  You don’t want to refer to a bear as reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh in a story that is set centuries before Ol’ Pooh Bear was ever invented.

In addition to historical fiction, the second area I see this mistake in is alternate worlds.  It is common in both fantasy and science fiction for the setting to be a completely made-up world that has a different history and culture than Earth.  My novel, “Manifestation,” is an example of that.  Since I set it in an alternate world, I had to be very careful not to reference any real-world politics, celebrities, or pop culture.  A simple example of that would be Dr. Caldwell’s cat: I briefly considered having her name it “Sigmund” or “Jung” after a famous psychiatrist, before catching myself and remembering those psychiatrists wouldn’t exist in my fictional world.

(The fact that the cat remains unnamed in the first draft is no small coincidence).

Of course, there’s another whole problem with using pop culture references in any work: they become dated and cliched.  Readers today might recognize a reference to, say, Snookie or Honey Boo Boo, but they are likely to fade from memory in ten or twenty years.  You’ll lose the reader if they get confused about a reference they don’t understand or aren’t familiar with.  That doesn’t mean they can’t be used; the intertextuality of drawing on the reader’s previous knowledge and experiences can be helpful in making your writing tighter and cleaner.  For example, it’s far easier for me to just say, “He had hair like a Muppet,” without having to go into deeper detail by clarifying, “He had hair like a Muppet: wild, unruly, and childishly carefree.”  Most readers (presumably) will get the image just fine without having it explained to them (which also brings us into the territory of “Show, Don’t Tell”).  The important thing is to understand your target audience, and make sure the reference won’t be lost on them, or else you’re leaving them confused and breaking them out of the story.

Though on the other hand, you might just introduce a reader to a new word, phrase, or reference and teach them something.  Which just goes to show that, like with any and all writing tips, it’s always a question of what works best for your story.

Title of this blog post inspired by the song ‘Steampunk Revolution’ by Abney Park.