“Dreams Beyond Gold”– A new FREE short story from Michael Tierney

Captain Jack Fawkes is a feared airpirate captain. Even though he has gained much renown and bounteous treasure from raiding airships, he is beginning to feel somewhat tired of the marauding life, and looking to try his hand at more literary pursuits. How will he manage to escape his airship without his crew realizing that he is giving up his former life—and the treasures he earns for them? It’s a tale of swashbuckling adventure along with a bit of humour.

“Dreams Beyond Gold” is available HERE. You will also be signed up to receive my periodic newsletter with information on my writing, as well as other interesting tidings. And I pledge: No Spam.

Welcome aboard!

Verisimilitude

Like many authors, I have an inordinate fondness for interesting words. One of my favorites is “verisimilitude”, both because its etymology is straightforward—veri = truth plus “similis”=like—and because it is a crucially important concept to put into practice in one’s writing.

Much fiction writing includes inventing a world in which the story takes place—science fiction and fantasy writing for sure, and straight fiction to some extent as well. The characters live in this fictional world, interacting with each other as well as with the world. 

Now part of the magic of the process of reading is that the reader will happily follow the writer through the story but only as long as the components seem plausible. Do they possess ‘verisimilitude’? If so, the reader is happy to continue on through the story.  If not, the reader will be jolted out of the story as they question what they just read, and look it over again to make sure they didn’t get it wrong.  The reader usually has a pretty generous latitude in what they’ll believe.  After all, they want to believe the overall story. If the offense is too great, however, they will only grumpily proceed, annoyed that this or that piece of the story seems wrong.

For example: 

Your story’s world seems to be fairly similar to ours, but somewhere in Chapter 2, with no prior warning, your main character kills a dragon with a magic sword. If you hadn’t dropped in subtly somewhere previously that magic swords exist (let alone dragons!) in your world, your reader is going to be very confused, and not a little irked because they’re going to stop reading and flip through Chapter 1 seeing if they’ve missed something important. Not an optimal reading experience.

However, if you had shown early on that your main character lived in a castle and her mother was training her in witchcraft by casually including a scene where she is reading through a book of spells and waving her wand around, the sudden appearance of the dragon in the next chapter wouldn’t be so startling.  A little foreshadowing goes a long way.

There are some examples that seem to contradict this:  Gregor Samsa finds himself metamorphosed into a giant insect in the very first sentence of Kafka’s famous short story. The events that occur afterwards are completely believable, however, and serve to buffer the unexpected initial event.

Even very small inconsistent details can jerk readers out of their reverie if they’re noticed.  For example, if in your novel’s world Britain and the US never quite make up after the Revolutionary War (as they don’t in my Airship Flamel Adventures series), it would seem unlikely that Americans drink tea out of Wedgwood porcelain teacups.

Similarly, in describing futuristic technology, it’s not important that your airship operate using actual true-to-life technology.  But it is important to allow your reader to believe in your technology by sprinkling around a sufficient amount of reasonable-sounding details.  No one who watches Star Trek doubts the ability of the warp drive to propel the Enterprise to trans-light speeds after hearing about nacelles, Jeffries tubes, and plasma conduits.  (I am reserving my position on mushroom-powered drives, however.)

As a writer, your job is to create entertaining and interesting stories, and that means leading your reader along by the hand through your carefully constructed world, free of jarring inconsistencies and implausible events. Verisimilitude is the answer. 

What Steampunk means to me

I’m not interested in trying to define steampunk. Any number of articles and blog posts have been written on the general topic of “What is Steampunk?”  While there’s a certain usefulness in that endeavour (Steampunk isn’t “anything you want”.), I’m happy to believe that steampunk can encompass, or at least cast its brass begoggled gaze over, an astonishingly broad swath of our sci-fi/fantasy microcosm.

Also,  who am I to tell my fellow foot soldiers in Her Majesty’s Legions that their magic-infused automatons are any more or less valid than my British professor travelling the world on a Voyage of Discovery in his plasma-powered airship?

I would, however, like to describe what Steampunk has come to mean to me—my own personal, subjective opinion.

I’ve been interested in Victorian design for some time. I live in a 1880s Victorian house. I also have a deep fascination with Victorian Era technology, which is simple and visible enough to understand its function— the clicks of a telegraph key or the swoosh of a steam piston—yet powerful enough to build an Empire. Industrial Revolution practicality combined with completely superfluous decoration embody the two precepts of William Morris’s adage, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

1280px-The_Octagon,_Crossness_Pumping_Station

There’s no functional need for a sewage pumping station to be so ornately decorated, but why not? Crossness Pumping Station, downriver from London. Source: Steve Cadman, flickr.com

I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about this thing called steampunk.  It was likely sometime between a visit to Maker Faire and seeing my neighbors preparing for Burning Man. At Maker Faire I saw the League of S.T.E.A.M., a performance group of steampunk ghostbusters,  as well as the group Obtainium Works, then known mostly for the Neverwas Haul, a self-propelled Victorian house.

Seeing these groups and their fantastic self-made outfits and props was truly inspiring, especially considering my science background and interest in the history of the Victorian Era.  Who knew that there were others with the same combination of interests as me? And that they could build a functioning (well, mostly functioning) zombie immobilization engine?

Maker Faire became an annual event for our family, and we met many more amazing Steampunks wandering around the Faire.  My sons wanted to make their own steampunk outfits one year and were searching for accessories to combine with pieces borrowed from the neighbors’ costuming box. I modded a neon-colored water pistol from the dollar store into a reasonably respectable plasma pistol for one of them to carry around.  It was my gateway project that urged me further down the rabbit hole that is Steampunk. (My next pistol was built around a small plasma globe that I first saw as part of a steampunked electric guitar.)

before

Water pistol before…

after

Modded water pistol

Maker Faire (RIP) led to Nova Albion (RIP) which led to Clockwork Alchemy, the Bay Area’s steampunk con, and the Dickens’ Fair, a celebration of Dickensian Christmas which also attracts many steampunk fellow travelers.

pistol_on

“McCaig’s Folly” A plasma pistol based on a plasma ball.

So, what does steampunk mean to me? Steampunk is joyful and collaborative.  It is the opposite of cynical and sarcastic.  But witty though, it’s definitely witty.  Steampunk is good-natured and and good-humoured.  (Yes, I added a British “u” there, because it’s fun!  Brits, you can omit your superfluous “u” if you want to explore Wild Weird West-style Steampunk.)

I delight in the Steampunk Aesthetic, in all its brass cogs, steam engines, airships, top hats and corsets. Self-made props and gadgets, some of which truly rise to the level of Art, astound me with their cleverness and sense of humor. Just as important is the generosity and sense of camaraderie amongst steampunks. I have found us to be always quick to help out with friendly and helpful advice on techniques and resources for the often arcane materials we might need to get that appearance just right. This sense of fellowship continues for my author comrades, the Treehouse Writers, at Clockwork Alchemy.  They helped me get started writing with encouragement and suggestions when all I had was a first chapter, and misty visions. Now, three books and several short stories later, I know I can always rely upon them for advice and support.

And just last week, upon the cancellation of Clockwork Alchemy 2020 because of the pandemic, the volunteer organizers mounted a replacement concert, completely on-line with the artists that were to attend the con streaming their performances from bedrooms and basements to fellow steampunks around the world.

I have no doubt that the Steampunk Spirit will prevail and I’ll be attending Clockwork Alchemy again next March.

Be Splendid.

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Darwin’s Dragon — Now available!

190218_Dragon bookmark art

I am very pleased to announce that my latest novel in the Airship Flamel Adventures Series, Mr. Darwin’s Dragon, is now available on Amazon for paperback and Kindle formats and on Smashwords for most other ebook formats.  Here’s the synopsis:

Charles Darwin, one of Britain’s most famous and certainly most controversial scientists has a puzzle. How is it that cultures all over the world have ancient myths of dragons? Could dragons have once lived alongside ancient man? Could dragons still exist?

Professor Nicodemus Boffin and his newly launched airship Flamel takes up Darwin’s request to search for evidence of modern dragons. The voyage takes Flamel from Britain through the Middle East and over the Himalayas to China. The search is barely begun when Flamel discovers an illicit gold mine run by Cai Yuan, a cruel Chinese warlord, and his corrupt British collaborator. Professor Boffin and his family are taken hostage in the mine which seems to be guarded by a fierce dragon. The crew of Flamel must rescue them, and together discover whether Mr. Darwin’s dragon truly exists.

The book will be launched next weekend at Clockwork Alchemy, the San Francisco Bay Area’s steampunk con.  But that’s not all.  I also have written one of the eleven short stories published in an anthology titled, Next Stop on the #13, put together with many of the talented authors that you’ll be able to  meet at Clockwork Alchemy.

next_stop_on_13_front_cover

If you’re interested in Steampunk and in the Bay Area next weekend (March 22-24), I wholeheartedly recommend you attend and take part in the shenanigans.  I’ll be in the Author’s Alley section of the Artist’s Bazaar.  Come by and say Hi!

Also, come by and see me at the two panels I’ll be presenting.  On Saturday at 2:00 pm, I’ll be giving a talk on Steampunk Architecture, and on Sunday at noon, I will be presenting “How to Research” along with the master of alternative history, Harry Turtledove.  (I expect to learn more from him than I teach myself.)

 

A preview, of sorts

As I was writing this afternoon, I discovered that this paragraph had appeared on my computer screen:

“And what about me, Nicodemus?” asked Jane.  “This is the second time in this book series that I’ve been locked in a dungeon!”

I didn’t mean for Jane Boffin (née Faraday) to suddenly become so meta, but there it was.  I’ll go back tomorrow, repair the broken fourth wall, and rework the scene, toning down Jane’s impertinence just a bit. (She is imprisoned in a dungeon after all.)

This book (the third I’ve written in the Airship Flamel Adventures series) has been listed on my NaNoWriMo page as having the working title of “There Be Dragons Here”.  Although that phrase is encountered in the novel, the story has evolved away from the pirate-y connotation that phase implies. I’m still deciding on a final title.  There will be dragons though.

Stay tuned.

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!).

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.