Until very recently, I had no idea what Steampunk was. I read a few sample pages of a steampunk novel this past Spring and found it only mildly interesting but not my cup of tea. Imagine my surprise then, when I picked up a copy of The Captain and the Lady Fair: Changing Times by Quinne Darkover.
Mr Darkover drew me right into this book with an airship explosion at sea which left only a young woman and an infant as survivors. The tension builds as the Captain of the the Lady Fair follows his instincts to reach the survivors in time and effect a rescue.
He keeps the reader enthralled as the Captain leads his mostly female crew on a page-turning adventure through the challenges of fights with airsharks and dreadnaughts, assassins, and politics while overcoming the social prejudices of the times.
Mr Darkover paints vivid pictures of lovable and multidimensional characters and despicable villains. I found myself on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next and how the various characters would work it all out. So much so that I finally just put everything on hold and spent the day finishing this book. I'm not sorry that I did.
I would happily recommend this book to anyone.
Writing Historical Fiction
I enjoy reading historical fiction. I love westerns, and the Civil War period. I enjoy books like Bernard Cornwell's Richard Sharpe series on a soldier rising through the ranks of the British army in the Napoleonic Wars, or C.S. Forester's Hornblower series about a British officer rising through the ranks of the Navy during the same period.
So it follows that I would enjoy writing historical fiction as well. It’s a good thing that I do enjoy it because it can be a lot more work than other genres. I could sit down and write a romance or a mystery in a nice comfortable familiar setting. I could write a science fiction story set on a planet entirely of my own imagining. I could create my own fantasy world and populate it with creatures as I imagine them to be. Instead, I choose to write historical fiction where the least little deviation from historical fact can pop my reader right out of the story and have them throwing it in the dustbin while swearing loudly that they will never read anything of mine again.
Its a tricky genre to work with. Every detail needs to be checked and rechecked against the fabric of the times. I have to get everything right.
My civil war veteran going home to Texas can't be armed with a Colt Peacemaker nor even the Colt Dragoon. Why? Because neither of these popular weapons existed until much later. My vaquero won't be lassoing cattle with a rope, because the vaqueros preferred the riata made of braided leather which were much longer and harder to master. I must resist the strong temptation to clothe my westerners in jeans or Levis. Levi Strauss in partnership with Jacob Davis, a Nevada Tailor, didn't make their first pair of the iconic “waist overalls” until around 1873. Likewise, I cannot have an Alabama farmer wearing blue jeans which were not sold east of the Mississippi until 1950.
The historical traps don't end with clothing and equipage either. If my character is to go to town for supplies, I had better be sure that the town existed and was active in that time period. The same is even more true for frontier forts which were often built, abandoned, regarrisoned and abandoned again. I also need to know what size force was stationed at the fort. Although Fort Lincoln in Nebraska served as home to the 7th Cavalry and their flamboyant Colonel as well as a couple of infantry regiments, many frontier forts were commanded by mere Captains and garrisoned with as few as two dozen troops.
I wrote once of a cattle war in New Mexico in 1866 only to learn, much to my chagrin, that the first cattle were driven into the state by John Chisum in 1872. Fortunately, I caught this error before the piece even went to a Beta reader.
No matter what period in history one writes about, there are always these sorts of things to be considered. Historical fiction is a tricky beast and what distinguishes a great read from only passable is often in the details. The only reason anyone would tackle it is a love of the genre and he period it is set in.
Reviewing Others Work
I hear all kinds of opinions about what goes into a review or a critique. I hear some people say that they only give good reviews, others complain about the bad review they got. Here's my perspective as an author. The most useful reviews/critiques I've gotten have been the harshest. Sure they hurt. But from that pain comes growth both as an author and a person. I don't believe that I've ever written anything deserving of five stars. I hope to one day. To me, a five is the best of the best. So save those for "To Kill a Mockingbird", "The Old Man and the Sea" or "The Grapes of Wrath". Are fours more common? Sure. J K Rowling, Steven King and any number of others have written several. Let's face it, the average book is a three. One of my favorite authors, Louis L'Amour wrote them by the dozen. But even with his vast experience and publishing success I wouldn't credit him with more than a handful of fours, if any.
If a book is well written, has no obvious plot holes, has three dimensional, likeable characters, holds the reader's interest and makes me want to read more then it's a three. Giving a higher rating to a book or story which didn't earn it, is just as unfair to both the reader who is sucked into buying and wasting their time and the author who is lulled into believing that his sub-par performance has put him at the top of his craft so he quits striving and reaching for better.
Just as I would reserve a five for the Creme-de-la-Creme, so would I reserve a one for books or stories I could find little or no redeeming qualities in and, good or bad, I would always state why I gave a particular rating.
For those who say that you will simply not write a review if a book is bad, this is just as unfair as giving a five star to a three. It skews the system allowing more weight to friends and family and giving less credence to those who have done the hard work of giving an honest review.
To authors who whine about their poor reviews, you're missing the point, and you're making the rest of us look bad. Have enough pride in yourself and your craft to suck it up, learn from it and move on. We'll all be glad you did.
I thought that, in light of the events of this past week, it was entirely appropriate to take a fresh look from a different perspective. Poets.org disseminates a poem to an audience estimated at a quarter of a million readers on a weekly basis.
Poets.org has taken the unusual step of inviting venues everywhere to publish the poem for their own audiences.
@ the Crossroads - A Sudden American Poem
RIP Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police
officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith,
Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—and all
their families. And to all those injured.
Let us celebrate the lives of all
As we reflect & pray & meditate on their brutal deaths
Let us celebrate those who marched at night who spoke of peace
& chanted Black Lives Matter
Let us celebrate the officers dressed in Blues ready to protect
Let us know the departed as we did not know them before—their faces,
Bodies, names—what they loved, their words, the stories they often spoke
Before we return to the usual business of our days, let us know their lives intimately
Let us take this moment & impossible as this may sound—let us find
The beauty in their lives in the midst of their sudden & never imagined vanishing
Let us consider the Dallas shooter—what made him
what happened in Afghanistan
flames burned inside
(Who was that man in Baton Rouge with a red shirt selling CDs in the parking lot
Who was that man in Minnesota toppled on the car seat with a perforated arm
& a continent-shaped flood of blood on his white T who was
That man prone & gone by the night pillar of El Centro College in Dallas )
This could be the first step
in the new evaluation of our society This could be
the first step of all of our lives
- Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States, July 8, 2016
Copyright © 2016 by Juan Felipe Herrera. All rights reserved. This poem is being shared by Poem-a-Day, a series from the Academy of American Poets that features new poems by contemporary poets on weekdays and classic poems on weekends. For more please visit www.poets.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Writer's Voice
More than anything else that a writer does, their Voice tells the reader who they are. Why do readers care as long as its a good story? Good question. Readers want to know that the author knows what he or she is talking about. They not only want a good story, but an authentic one. They want an author who speaks in a language that they both understand and feel comfortable with. So how does one achieve this?
In a word? Experience. We all have different life experiences which give us that unique perspective on our subjects. We all see life through our own lenses. We all speak our own language with all of its nuances, accents and inflections. These are what give a writer his voice.
In my own work, most of the time my main character will speak as I speak, will see the world pretty much as I see it, or sometimes as I want to see it. He will speak from a poor or middle class background because that is my background. He will often have some military experience because I gave ten years of my life to Uncle Sam and that is one of the filters that I view the world through. He will likely be a westerner either born or transplanted because I grew up in the west and have an understanding of it.
The topics and themes that a writer chooses will also contribute to his or her voice. Again, I draw heavily on my own experience. I grew up listening to my grandfather's tales of horses and cattle, of blizzards and sandstorms, snow capped peaks and blistering deserts.
Later, I spent two years in Yuma, and a summer south of Tucson. I've hiked the forests around Flagstaff and peered into the depths of the Grand Canyon. I've been to Yellowstone, Jackson Hole and Cody. I've crossed the Tetons and explored the Sierras. I've hiked alone on foot through Apache Pass and into Fort Bowie in mid-July. I've walked the streets of Tombstone and sipped a beer in the Crystal Palace. I've been to Cochise's Stronghold, high in the heavily forested Chiricahua Mountains, and to Geronimo's in the beautifully stark and boulder-strewn Dragoons. I love the land in all these locations and often incorporate it into my stories. You'll find many a western setting, or western people and their particular morals and mores. Its part of who I am and I let it flow freely in my writing.
I spent a couple of years riding the Southwest RCA rodeo circuit. I spent my free time hanging out with Stock Contractors, cowboys and buckle bunnies and enjoy writing about the characters and events I have seen. In my travels, I picked up a good deal of the language and that, too, comes through in my writing.
Finally, there is the meter and word choice in my scribblings which says as much about me as what I write. I'm not one for flowery phrases and occult meanings. Like the cowboys and construction workers I grew up around, I tend to be direct and simple. This too, is a part of my voice. I'm thankful that this is a choice that I make. I can and have sat shoulder to shoulder with millionaires, politicians, captains of industry, Hollywood glitterati and even a duchess. I can hold my own in that society, but I'm much more comfortable with my buddies behind the bucking chutes and so that is how I speak in daily life and it comes through in my writing.
I hope that someone reading this finds something useful and that all of you have enjoyed it. Until next week, then.