Art Deco Locomotives

Right about the time that diesel locomotives were gaining ground on the older steam locomotives, some railroads redesigned their steam engines.  By streamlining their design, the railroads hoped to keep the steam engines running.  In some cases, the re-design was made so that the older steam engines would match the look of the diesel locomotives. In others, doubts about the power that could be obtained from diesel engines was the reason.  For whatever reason, the result was a collision between traditional engineering design and the leading art movement of the time, Art Deco, to create some amazing examples of railway design.

A description of all that the Art Deco Movement encompasses would take much more than a single blog post. (See the Wikipedia article for a good introduction though.) Suffice to say that Art Deco is in a way a reaction to the earlier movement, Art Nouveau.  While Art Nouveau features themes from nature and sinuous curving design elements, Art Deco encompasses more severe geometric forms.  Art Deco’s features celebrate the exuberance of the future and its new technologies. One word that is often used to describe Art Deco is streamlined, and that is the exact reason for the redesign of steam engines in the late 1930s: to make them look fast and luxurious. Ironically, little if any performance improvements were realized as the additional weight of the streamlining offset any advantage in lowering wind resistance.

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On-line Resources for Writers

On-line resources

This page is based on a talk I gave at the 2018 Clockwork Alchemy con entitled “On-Line Research for Steampunk Novels”. During the course of writing my novels, I’ve discovered a number of great on-line resources that I found extremely useful in researching the Victorian Era, its technology, society and history, and of course, its cockeyed offspring Steampunk.

This list should be helpful for writers of both historical fiction and fictional history as we all want to get the details right–except when we don’t. Because my steampunk novels revolve around Victorian Britain, this list is starting off biased in that direction–but there are plenty of other ways to write steampunk.

I’ll keep the link to this list at the top of the front page of the blog and I invite you to leave your favorite on-line resource in the comments, and I’ll add it to the list (with appropriate credit, of course!).

The Harrison Clocks

Since Google has honoured John Harrison with the Google Doodle today, I thought I’d repost this blog post from almost three years ago.

Airship Flamel

A recent post on the Two Nerdy History Girls blog prompted me to remember the wonderful book “Longitude” by Dava Sobel chronicling the history of John Harrison and his lifelong pursuit to develop an accurate chronometer.

In 1714, the Royal Navy had a problem.  Although it was a rather simple procedure to determine the latitude of a ship at sea (by sighting angle of the the sun at noon or Polaris, the North Star, at night), it was exceedingly difficult to determine a ship’s longitude.  After several maritime disasters resulting from faulty navigation, Parliament passed the Longitude Act which offered monetary rewards for methods to determine longitude at sea.

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Starting with Steampunk — Wally Smith

This first poem for the NaPoWriMo month of April ought to have been posted some hours ago, shortly after going to the Easter Sunday church service and lunch at a local hostelry. However, that is when we met a couple of steampunk enthusiasts, dressed flamboyantly in a mix of retro styles relating in the main […]

via Starting with Steampunk — Wally Smith

Steampunk Road Trip – Clockwork Alchemy — Airship Ambassador

We’re back in sunny California for our next stop, chatting with Charlie, who is the head of Marketing for the Clockwork Alchemy convention. Hello Charlie! When is the convention being held this year? Charlie : This year it will be held March 23-25, 2018,at the Hyatt Regency SFO in Burlingame, California, USA. […]

via Steampunk Road Trip – Clockwork Alchemy — Airship Ambassador

Old House Idiosyncrasies #8–Sarah Winchester’s House

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Winchester House, San Jose, California

Living in San Jose, California and being interested in all things Victorian, it would be impossible for me to ignore the largest Victorian house in the United States, the house built by Sarah Winchester. A recent article on the always interesting Atlas Obscura website which details some of the history of the Winchester House got me thinking about this architectural marvel.

The house, which is gaining some newfound notoriety because of the recently released movie, Winchester, starring Helen Mirren, was Sarah Winchester’s home from 1884 until her death in 1922.  She moved west from New Haven, Connecticut a few years after the death of her husband John, one of the owners of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.  As her husband’s heir, she received a generous inheritance, as well as a major share of the company.  She moved into a small farmhouse surrounded by orchards, and started adding on, building a home more suitable to her fortune and social standing. Continue reading

Pantsing vs. Plotting

If you spend any time around writers, the conversation will inevitably come around to “pantsing” vs. “plotting, that is, writing by the seat of your pants, or writing from a well-plotted outline.  Neither of these two methods is “right”; it’s a matter of one’s preference, and, well, personality.

I’m a scientist by training as well as by temperament, so you’d think that I would fall into the plotters’ camp.  But no.  I usually have to be dragged kicking and screaming into working out a plot. I’m more of an R&D scientist than a Quality Control scientist.

When I was writing my first book, which I did during NaNoWriMo, I started writing and just kept going.  I reveled in the magic that occurred when my characters came to life and I felt as if I was just following them around taking dictation.  A method which works out well if you have a pretty good idea where your characters are going in the first place.  Around day 13 or so of NaNoWriMo, I realized that my characters were being a bit more wayward than I wanted.  So I stopped writing and spent a day figuring out what kind of adventure they were on, and what was going to happen to get them to the end of it.  Once I had some idea of the plot ahead (and really, it was a pretty flimsy outline that I had crafted…), I could go back to happily letting my cast of characters lead me through their adventures, and banging out my 1666 words per day until I had reached the end of November, and fortunately, the end of the story.

I recently found myself in a similar circumstance in my (third!) novel whose working title is “There be Dragons Here”. I participated in NaNoWriMo again this year, but since I realized that I’d never have time enough to reach 50,000 words written in November (“winning” in NaNoWriMo parlance), I set a lower goal of 500 words per day which I easily accomplished.  But come around New Years, even though I was still writing at a fair clip, I felt that my characters were losing their way, and began to wander aimlessly.

So, I cut off about three feet from a big roll of butcher paper I have, put on my writer’s sweater (the one with the elbow patches), and sat down with a big cup of coffee and pens of many colors to craft an outline, or at least a visual flow chart of what has to happen to each character from the beginning of the story to the end.  A couple of hours later, the outline was completed with a few surprises. A couple of characters end up being not quite who I had suspected, a whole set of airpirates turn out not to be in this book after all, and one event that I had hoped to be able to work out differently I realized has to happen the way I had first conceived after all. And by the way, I discovered a starting point for the next book that I hadn’t realized was going to happen (a four-book trilogy, hurrah!)

So, pantsing vs. plotting? Both have their uses.  Pantsing can be magical, but only if you have a good idea of the plot already.  Plotting, I’ve found, can be necessary at some point in writing your story if only to keep the action moving and to keep the strands of your plot as tangled or untangled as they need to be.