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!).

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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

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.

Happy Birthday Michael Faraday!

September 22, 1791 is the birthday of my favorite scientist, Michael Faraday.

Here is a portrait painted of him at age 51, looking much younger than he does in most of his later photographic portraits.

M_Faraday_Th_Phillips_oil_1842

Portrait of Michael Faraday in 1841, painted by Thomas Phillips.

If you’re interested in reading more about this fascinating man, see this blog post.  A slightly more fictional Michael Faraday also features prominently in my latest steampunk adventure novel, “The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday.”

Old House Idiosyncrasies #6–The Octagon House

In a blog post on Steampunk Architecture that I wrote almost three years ago (and which has consistently been one of my more popular posts), I included a picture of the Armour Steiner House in upstate New York which has the distinction of having an octagonal floor plan.  Prompted by a post in the always interesting website Atlas Obscura, I looked around for more examples of these unusually shaped buildings.  And it turns out there’s an interesting story behind them.

ArmourStiner

Armour-Stiner House, Irvington, New York. Source: JMReidy on panoramio.com

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The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday — Now Available!

I am happy to announce that my second book, The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday, is now available!

170409 Cover

This novel is the second I’ve written in the Airship Flamel Adventures series, but is actually a prequel of my first novel, To Rule the SkiesWhen I wrote that book, I came to the realization that I was starting in the middle of Professor Nicodemus Boffin’s story.  This new book tells some of his history.  Here’s the synopsis:

Nicodemus Boffin rose from a boyhood in the ash heaps of East London to reach the pinnacles of British science when he is mentored by the great scientist, Michael Faraday. When Boffin finds a secret laboratory notebook in which Faraday has described incomprehensible experiments, Nicodemus wonders if Professor Faraday has discovered a new science, or has lost his faculties. Nicodemus’s rival, Viscount Whitehall-Barnes, seeks to gain the notebook by any means necessary to study the descriptions of a strange orange mineral with unusual properties which he believes is the alchemists’ Philosopher’s Stone. Realizing that the Viscount must never learn the secrets of the orange stone, Nicodemus takes action to keep the knowledge hidden, protect his family, and preserve the legacy of his mentor.

Besides telling the story of how Nicodemus Boffin grows from a poor but uncommonly clever boy in the slums of London to the forefront of Victorian British science, the novel features pompous aristocracy, a surprisingly capable laboratory assistant, and snarky air pirates.  Several Illustrious Personages may wander through the story as well.

The Secret Notebook of Michael Faraday is available in paperback and Kindle format at Amazon, and in many other ebook formats at Smashwords.