How I Spent My Mile Hi Con: Saturday

By some miracle, I managed to wake up and make myself presentable in time to grab a bagel and some juice at the Kaffeeklatsch sponsored by Who Else! Books/Broadway Book Mall. I think I even managed a few coherent sentences for Dave Boop and MHC Toastmaster Ian Tregillis. Then I set about perusing the art show and melting my plastic in the dealers’ room.

After purchasing various books and baubles, I caught part of the Researching Fiction panel featuring S Jackson, TL Morganfield, R Owens, J Strickland, and J Van Pelt. They had some good suggestions for resources, time management, and avoiding info dumps. Of those three, I think the time management is the hardest for me to do effectively. I am constantly going off on tangents in my research. Sometimes that is beneficial, but I am getting better about focusing on the writing and inserting flags to alert me when I need to go back and hunt down specific information.

Then I spent the afternoon flitting in and out of panels between monitoring my bids in the art auction. Some highlights were an Hour with Author GoH Catherynne M Valente, The Much-Maligned Happy Ending Defended by Connie Willis, and Beyond Brass and Goggles (featuring S Chambers, Guy De Marco, J Heller, Sam Knight, and David Riley). I had been stressing out quite a bit over the fact that I don’t have much in the way of advanced scientific knowledge and was worried that it would reduce my credibility as a steampunk writer. It was nice to hear that the steampunk genre still has a pretty broad spectrum of what degree of scientific detail and feasibility is required. The key seems to be to pay attention to consistent world-building in the first place. There’s a reason steampunk is considered alternate history, after all.

I wrapped up my evening with Positions on Writing Sex, a panel featuring Paolo Bacigalupi, H Bell, AK Davis, R Owens, and C Valente. This was a fascinating discussion of what can be included in YA and New Adult fiction (pretty much anything these days), what makes a sex scene effective (or not), and what the sudden popularity of 50 Shades of Grey means for the genres of romance and erotica (not much, since it is neither). This discussion gave me a lot to think about, both as a writer and as a woman, so you may see another blog post on that from me before very long.

Tomorrow I plan to post my Sunday MHC recap, and then I’ll be hunkered down for NaNoWriMo, but I hope to post updates as I explore a completely alien world: Reality TV!

Plan A

Wow! This post, which I wrote back in September, has miraculously reappeared! It just went poof and I could not find the draft anywhere. But here it is, more or less intact. And I’m happy to report that I’m still more or less on track, with just minor changes to Plan B.

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They say one way to improve productivity is to not only set goals but to share them with others. It’s one of the cornerstones of NaNoWriMo, and I do believe that my active involvement in the local NaNo group last year is a large part of why I finally “won” after oh-so-many attempts in previous years. I do have that as a goal again this year, but this time I am considering it more of a stepping-stone sort of goal. My next significant goal is to enter the Killer Nashville contest for the 2013 Claymore Award.

I know myself well enough to know that I must give myself plenty of stepping-stones. So here’s the plan:

1. Research trip to Arrow Rock.

2. Trai’s seminar on developing voice.

3. Research reading.

4. Steampunk and language creation panels at Mile Hi Con.

5. Trai’s seminar on novelcraft.

6. Creation of working outline for NaNoWriMo. (A gods’-view timeline, actually. That is a post unto itself.)

7. NaNoWriMo 2012.

8. Basic development of steampunk patois.

9. NaNoEdMo 2012. (That would be National Novel Editing Month. AKA December.) Trai will most likely offer a seminar.

10. Critical assessment of rough draft. (This means finding brutal readers skilled in the art of constructive criticism.)

11. Edits focused on first 50 pages.

12. Alternate history panels at AnomalyCon 2013.

13. Critical assessment of first 50 pages.

14. Contest-focused edits of first 50 pages.

15. Contest submission.

:: deep breath ::

It’s just 50 pages. That’s, what, half a NaNo?

Fieldwork Prep

Well, it seems that the Internet only gets you so far in world-building research. Even when you’re making history up as you go along, like I am. Because writing an alternate timeline still requires some common ground with the timeline we inhabit, so readers can have some sort of frame of reference. My current steampunk project may be set in an 1859 that has differed wildly from our history ever since Jefferson failed to get full funding for the Louisiana Purchase, but everything is still colored and flavored by the history preceding that point of divergence. And without a certain degree of commonality even after that point, the reader has no sense of continuity, nothing to connect my alternate 1859 with a possible 2012 that is not completely unrecognizable. (It would be way cooler than our 2012, though, rest assured.)

So, I need to learn my history. And that, my friends, means research. And lots of it. Yay, Internet! But like I said, there’s only so much you can get online. I have chosen to set my story in a real place, and I am finding that it makes my job easier and harder at the same time. Arrow Rock is a real town in the Missouri River Valley, and it has a great deal of history to it. So much, in fact, that much of it has been restored to its frontier appearance, and it even served as a stand-in for the too-modern Hannibal, Missouri, in a musical version of Tom Sawyer. Finding the history of Arrow Rock in books and online is a cinch. But as I flesh out the details of the story, I find myself perplexed to discover that the facts I need are not recorded anywhere. Because I need to know really oddball things. How long does it take a woman in steampunk attire to walk the length of the boardwalk? Or from the post office to the tavern? And how much steam-powered equipment could Godsey fit in his Diggings? 

So, into the field I go! I will get but a few hours next month to explore the village, so I am furiously scribbling down all the bits of trivia I need to scavenge while I’m there. And I’m debating the wisdom of dressing in full steampunk attire while I wander about, pacing off distances and muttering to myself. Maybe I should go ahead and get that MWA membership card. I’m told it excuses (or at least explains) all sorts of odd behavior.

Film Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I’ve heard the book is much better than the movie, so I have purposely put off reading the book. I think this helped me enjoy the movie for what it was, a fun mash-up of vampire horror and alternative history. It wasn’t overtly steampunk, but there were certainly several nice steampunk touches, especially in the vampire wardrobes. And of course there’s a huge steam train sequence. 

The pacing seemed to be a bit off, which probably resulted, at least in part, from the adaptation process. Very few full-length novels make the jump to the big screen well, and I’ve always wondered why more filmmakers don’t concentrate on adapting shorter works. At any rate, it will be interesting to see how or if my opinion on the plotting changes after I’ve read the book. I also wonder if Speed’s character will seem more consistent to me in the novel. Yes, yes, I understand the plot twist involving him. I’m talking about some of the more subtle things in his attitude.

Well, I guess I will just have to read the book before I can say a whole lot more about the movie. But if you’re in the mood for a fun vampire flick with lots of blood and some great action scenes, you could do far worse.