Steampunk inspiration and resources

  • Cowboys and Aliens (2011)


My Interview with Author E.C. Jarvis and her 4th Steampunk Book Release

The Destiny

This week I got the opportunity to pick the brain of author E. C. Jarvis as part of her launch for The Destiny, so you get your Monday post one day early! In 2015, I reviewed Book 1 of the Blood and Destiny series, The Machine, and Jarvis’ new book is the fourth and final installment in that series. If you missed it, you may want to read the review for The Machine, otherwise, let’s get started.

PD: How did you first find out about Steampunk? What do you like about it?

ECJ: Have you seen the awesome stuff Steampunk Aficionados come up with? What’s not to like? I admire the aesthetic, beautiful bustles, gorgeous gears, amazing machines, men dressed up in smart suits with top hats. The style gives so much potential for great adventure stories. I’m not much of a crafter, but I do love to write, so writing was really the only outlet I had to explore the endless possibilities of the world.

I didn’t know very much about it until the start of 2015 when I came across a short story prompt on They wanted a steampunk story with the idea being that something has to happen before the onset of winter. I rarely get inspired by such prompts but this one set something off which snowballed. The story grew and took on a life of its own as a few of my close friends encouraged me to keep going. Here we are, four books later and I guess it was just the right time for me to take writing seriously.

PD: Tell us a little about the world you have created for your series.

ECJ: It is initially set Sallarium city in the Republic of Daltonia. The city is very loosely based on Victorian London but with a steampunk twist. There is a central Hub which houses a secret Machine and our female lead, Larissa, is nothing more than a store clerk with an unusual necklace. There is a lot of travel across the books. We go from one end of the world to the other and back again, so lots of airships and sailing ships and trains. The characters grow and change as the landscape grows and changes.

PD: Did you research anything interesting to make these books happen, or is it all from your imagination?

ECJ: The majority of it is from my imagination, but I did have to do some specific research in parts. I’m no engineer or scientist, but I knew that the machine in the book should be a steampunk equivalent of a nuclear fission reactor. As much as I would have liked to go and grab a doctorate in nuclear fission, it turns out you can’t just go pick one of those up on a whim. So I had to resort to some basic research on Wikipedia articles and other useful places that google sent me to. I just hoped the police would take “I’m a writer” as a good reason for my internet search history. I had to make the dialogue for the characters when discussing the machine as fluid and “realistic” as possible. It would have been easy to just have them say “it’s like a big boiler but more complicated,” but that would have been lazy work.

In book two there is an “incident” with a volcano. In the first draft I had written that someone had set off a bunch of explosives which caused an eruption. Upon doing a little bit of research I found that such a scenario simply wouldn’t work. Volcanic eruptions are caused by a buildup of pressure that suddenly releases. So I rewrote that section to that effect. I’m sure most readers would neither know nor care about such things, but once I’d found that the real physics of my world were wrong, I knew I had to do something about it.

Similarly, I gave myself a crash course in airship design and handling, steam train operation, nautical terminology, military protocol, regal protocol, and a few other elements that I’ve forgotten about.

PD: Were there any cool tidbits or “deleted scenes” that didn’t make it into the books?

ECJ: There is an antagonist throughout the series that you don’t really discover as an antagonist until book two. In book four I started writing chapters from his point of view to try and give some insight into his character, but they weren’t really working, so had to be cut. Other than that I tend to write a fairly clean first draft, meaning that not a lot of altering goes on in the editing.

That said, the character of the Cleric wasn’t included in book one until I was almost at the end of writing it. Once he popped into the world I knew I wanted to make much more of him so I went back over the book and inserted him into a lot of scenes, including the very first pages. It added a dimension to the story that I never knew was missing.

PD: What is your main character like? Did you make her up from scratch or is she based on a real person?

ECJ: Larissa is so many things. She’s smart, determined, romantic, strong, and witty. Sadly though, she is very naïve, to her serious detriment. I put her through an awful lot of pain and suffering, but she still comes out the other side hopeful and strong. She’s probably a composite of a lot of people. I wanted more than anything to avoid the trap that some writers fall into when writing a female lead. It’s very easy to write a strong woman who is a complete bitch that readers end up disliking. I wanted people to feel for Larissa, to sympathize when she felt pain and to cheer when she did something awesome, and ultimately to root for her to win the day. I wouldn’t say she is based on me – the character of Cid is much more like me… is it odd that I identify with a surly old man more than a heroic young woman? In fact, don’t answer that.

PD: If you could give your younger self one piece of wisdom about writing or publishing, what would you tell her?

ECJ: You’re better than you give yourself credit for.

PD: This is your fourth and final release in this series. Obviously the work of promotion never ends, but how does it feel to get the last installment “done?”

ECJ: Odd. For a long time I just wanted to be done with the stories. They felt like a bit of a burden in the end, but now they’re gone I feel lost. It’s like some weird relationship that I really miss now it’s over. I did – rather unintentionally- leave a little wiggle room for maybe a fifth book, but despite missing the daily visit to the world in my head, I’m in no rush to go back there. Maybe one day.

PD: What’s next for you as a writer?

ECJ: I have my other series to finish, one third and final book which is about fifteen percent written already. After that I have a few other projects in mind. I’ll never stop writing, it’s like a lung, I can’t cut it out without causing serious detriment to my health. Whether I’ll pursue agents and publishers in the future depends on how my other works go. Self-publishing is very rewarding, but the marketing and promotions are a lot of hard work. It’s a commitment and a vocation and the thrill of it is wearing off a bit. Maybe I’ll feel differently after a break. Who knows?

Find E.C. Jarvis on Amazon


Penny Dreadful Comes to Netflix

That’s right friends, you can now watch Penny Dreadful with Netflix rather than curse at your cable package for not carrying Showtime. I started it last night and it was amazing. Plus, the perfect thing to get me into a spoooOOOoooky mood for the world’s best holiday, Halloween! In only the pilot I already came face to face with vampiric ghouls and a very mad scientist obsessed with animating the dead.

In case you’ve never heard of this lovely little ode to the gory and the gothic, check out the trailer.



Booze, Glorious Booze: Absinthe

absinthe_robette_poster“The green fairy” first twinkled into existence in 1792 in the hands of a French doctor named Pierre Ordinaire (yep, his name was basically Pete Normalguy but with a better accent). He was looking for a delivery method for wormwood, which at the time was thought to have healing effects. By 1797, Ordinaire sold his recipe to a Swiss father and son team, who eventually moved production to Pontarlier, France in 1805. Absinthe production rose to as high as 400 liters a day over the following decades and mostly in service to a growing demand by elite imbibers, but this was nothing compared to the demand create by the “absinthe fever” that took over mid-century Bohemia.

absinthe_edouard_pernot.htmDuring the 1850’s, many artists and writers turned to this spirited spirit to find their muse, and by the 1870’s people from all walks of life were drinking it. In addition to being a jolly good time, absinthe was also used to fight off bacterial infections. In those days the water quality for the average French urbanite was very bad, and people added alcohol in order to “purify” before drinking. Believe it or not, wine was actually more expensive than absinthe, so many poor people saw it is the economical choice. Adding water to absinthe also has the strange effect of making it cloudy, so absinthe-water would be a delightfully minty green color.

One American city started a long-lasting relationship with absinthe as well. New Orleans embraced the green fairy as early as 1869, and within a few years was known as the “Absinthe Capital of America.” Special absinthe cocktail lounges opened all over the city, and local brands like The Green Opal and Legendre were born. At a bar called The Absinthe Room, the owner installed a special fountain that dripped the diluted alcohol over lumps of sugar and into waiting glasses. These lounges attracted several notable end of century figures such as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde.

If you didn't have a fountain, you could put sugar on a special spoon and drip water through it to achieve the same effect

If you didn’t have a fountain, you could put sugar on a special spoon and drip water through it to achieve the same effect

While something that calls itself absinthe is available in the US, the truth is that it’s missing the special ingredient: wormwood. Though many European countries do not restrict its sale, the original recipe for absinthe is considered toxic by the FDA. I tried some old world absinthe during my travels and I didn’t think it was all the special, personally. Maybe I needed to be drinking alone and staring at a canvas or something, but my muse was pretty mute. Absinthe tastes very strongly of anise, so if you aren’t a black licorice fan I’d stay steer clear.

Have you ever had a run-in with the green fairy? Leave a comment below!


Steampunk Movie Review: Cowboys and Aliens


A lot of the movies that I put under the umbrella of Steampunk get that title because of more or less aesthetic reasons. The City of Ember, for instance, is technically a post-Apocalyptic future, but the people rely on a level of technology akin to the 1900’s. Cowboys and Aliens falls on the other end of the spectrum. Instead of looking Steampunk, the very essence of the story is an alternate history with a futuristic twist, which makes it qualify in my book. It’s also an awesome mash-up that expertly uses some of Western’s best tropes and integrates horror movie principles flawlessly.

cowboys-and-aliens-fullThe film opens with sweeping shots of the seemingly empty landscape. Cut to Daniel Craig, dirty, bleeding, and with no memory of how he ended up in the middle of the desert with a funky metal contraption on his arm. Within a few minutes, he establishes his unadulterated badassery and his status as the consummate cowboy – a gruff loner with a quick draw and sledgehammer fists. But all he has are disturbing flashes of the dead eyes of a beautiful woman staring at him to tell him who he is or where he came from.

Enter Harrison Ford, an ex-military man turned cattle rancher who now spends his time bullying the townsfolk. His son takes his shenanigans one step too far and winds up in jail. (You see what I mean about classic Western tropes?) The big showdown between Ford and the sheriff seems imminent and then BOOM! Aliens attack! They blow stuff up and use these wicked grapplers to take hostages and whisk them away. Suddenly, the people who were at each other’s throats are pulled together in their quest to get their people back and retake their little patch of earth from the invaders.

The film is based on a graphic novel by the same title, and the director, Jon Favreau, was committed to both the spectacle of a comic and making a damn good Western. The special effects are great and the gritty realism of the cinematography and acting grounds what may seem like a goofy concept and makes it feel like it really could have happened. This is a great adventure film and I strongly recommend it for fans of science fiction and old movies alike.



I Can’t Be the Only One who Wonders How Victorian Women Used the Toilet…

Using the bathroom is hard enough in my Steampunky tu-tu, but I couldn’t imagine how someone would do it in a full on bustle. Luckily, when I was looking into just that question, YouTube came through:)

Steampunk Short Film: The Craftsman

This is a lovely little film made by an Italian director named Marcello Baretta in 2013. This version has English subtitles, but this simple tale really hardly even needs words, and the music is lovely. Enjoy!

Steampunk Book Review: Arachnodactyl by Danny Knestaut

arachnodactyl cover bookfunnel

Okay, I can probably guess what you are thinking. The title of today’s book, Arachnodactyl, sounds like a lot like something that sprang from the mind of Ed Wood or was riffed to death by the MST3K crew. I know I was picturing a bizarre spider-pterodactyl hybrid creature flitting across a Syfy channel ad when author Danny Knestaut first contacted me about doing a review. In truth, the only monsters in this story are of the human variety, and the story is both more serious and objectively better than the title may suggest.

The main character is an 18-year-old farmhand and tinkerer named Ikey. He is the last surviving child of a home torn asunder in equal parts by the Great War and his father’s ruthless nature. When Ikey is offered the opportunity to leave his old life behind and work for an admiral on an airship, he is afraid to leave his crippled uncle at the mercy of his father. He eventually agrees in order to avoid the threat of being drafted into the war effort but his heart is still on the farm. The welcome Ikey receives from his new boss in Manchester is anything but warm, and his isolated upbringing and conditioned fear of physical harm leaves him fumbling and making mistakes. The one bright spot in his new life is his boss’s wife Rose, a mysterious blind woman who never removes her veil. Her strange ways and the intricate machinery he finds in the house lead him to suspect she is not a human at all, but an automaton created by her husband.

In general, I thought this book had a strong premise and had a much more philosophical bent than I’d expected. Ikey is fascinated by the idea of blindness, both the seeming difficulty of even mundane tasks as well as the freedom the dark represents. Even though he believes he is unfit to love and never plans to have a family of his own because he believes he will turn out no better than his father, he finds himself enthralled by Rose. When they first engaged in a physical relationship I was actually disappointed because so many books seem to just add sex for the sake of sex, but after seeing the revelation that Ikey experiences as a result I decided it was more than just a bit of fluff. It actually was a very important moment for a character and his coming into his own as an adult, as well as his discovery of Rose’s true nature. The book is by no means overly graphic, but it is probably a PG-13 or older type read.

Surprisingly, the word “arachnodactyl” never appears anywhere in the book. My best guess is that the author was referencing Rose’s strange hands because arachnodactyl literally means “spider fingers.” I hope the shlocky horror movie the title evokes doesn’t hurt his sales, because we all know how people are when it comes to books and covers, and titles are just subject to the same knee-jerk judgments, especially in the ebook market where so many titles are free.  The writing itself was a bit inconsistent with several extremely procedural sentences like “he put the spoon in the bowl and the bowl on the plate” strung together, but were followed by lovely and melancholy prose offering insight about the nature of the world. It’s another instance of a book I wish I had edited, because all in all I feel it is a strong start but would have benefited from some tightening up in some places and more vividness in others.

This is not another fluffy, silly Steampunk book with lots of gadgets and action. Instead, it is a portrait of a damaged young man trying to find sense in a world that seems totally senseless and his love for a woman who seems to see the world as it is despite her lack of sight. His struggle and the overall tone of the book reminds me of books I read in high school English like Ethan Frome, though the prose itself is not always quite on par with the scope of his premise. I look forward to seeing how Knestaut’s work continues to mature and change as the series progresses.

The book will be released in Sept 2016, but pre-order you copy of Arachnodactyl now on Amazon!

500 Posts and Counting…

Hello friends!

Right after I hit “publish” on my crowdfunding article Monday, I got this nifty little notification that it was my 500TH POST!!! Woot!

The timing was apt because I am currently working on my editorial calendar for the next couple months and I am having a little trouble coming up with ideas. Steampunk is a wide, wacky world, but with 500 posts under my belt I have run through all my planned material. Never fear, I am sure I will be able to keep bringing you fabulous new stuff, but I thought this would be a nice opportunity to open up the floor to requests.

Want to see a tutorial for my paper engineering feats? Got a book to suggest I review? Love a Steampunk band that I have yet to feature? Have a topic or person in history you wish you knew more about? Let me know and I will add it to the calendar:)

I’m going to start my yearly birthday hiatus next week, so I’ll be back the week of August 8th with the inside scoop on GenCon. Thanks as always for your support, and here’s to the next 500 posts together!



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