Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Steampunk and Writing: Interview with Mark Rossmore from Escape the Clouds

I have not always been open to reading different genres. I enjoy reading classic literature because I know that I will enjoy the reading and because I know I will learn something about reading and writing. Last year, I created a critique group that meets weekly. Most of the writers of the group work in genres that I am not familiar with, genres that I was not always open to reading. However, I kept an open mind and was introduced to the accomplished writer and musician Mark Rossmore from Escape The Clouds who primarily works in the steampunk subgenre. His work is currently nominated for Best Short Story for "Iron Jack," Best Music Video for "Every Storm has an End," and Best Solo Musician at Check it out and vote!
Last week I had the opportunity to talk with Mark Rossmore about steampunk and writing in general. Below are a few things we talked about:

1. What does steampunk literature entail? 
It's a re-imagining of history. The typical setting--but not by any means the only setting--is the mid-to-late-19th century Victorian Era up to the beginning of the Great War, when steam and clockworks were the prevalent energy sources. It's by skewing that history with unique technology that you get the "punk" aspect.
The key question in writing steampunk is: "What if?" You can create an entire new world just by asking that single question. What if the US Civil War was fought with the aid of gigantic armored machines? What if there were airships used in the Crimean War or the Boshin War? What if the climatological disaster of 1816--the infamous Year Without a Summer--lasted for 100 years and mankind had to go underground to survive? Or, heck, what if practical steam power was discovered at the beginning of the Italian Renaissance? 

The thing to remember is that there are no rules. It's up to the author to decide when their history "broke" from reality, how it shifted, and what repercussions that change had on the world from then onwards. History can even be ignored altogether. There are plenty of authors who create an all-new science fiction world that happens to be based on steam or clockworks.

2. What does your writing process entail?
Foremost, a lot of research. I need to know the history before I can bend it, so I spend a lot of time researching period details--food, dress, weaponry, social customs. They may not always make it onto the page, but I keep them in the back of my mind when crafting the story and the way the characters interact with each other. 

3. If someone is unfamiliar with steampunk literature, what do you suggest they read to familiarize themselves with the sub-genre?
The grandfather of steampunk is Victorian Science Fiction, works written by authors who actually lived in that era. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are its most prominent emissaries. While modern steampunk writers are looking at what was and changing it to their own devices, these writers were looking to the future and seeing technology's potential. Wells' work was especially prophetic about modern day issues. Genetic Engineering (The Island of Dr. Moreau). Airpower in warfare (The War in the Air). Technology's role in evolution (The Time Machine).

For modern works written explicitly as steampunk, take a look at Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century series as a good starting point. For a quick, broad look at steampunk's various forms, I highly recommend some recent short story anthologies, such as Steampunk Tales ebook anthologies, The Dreams of Steam I & II anthologies, and Jeff and Ann Vandermeer's Steampunk and Steampunk II anthologies.

4. How do you become inspired to write a particular character's story? How do you come up with a plot?
I find a lot of inspiration in the social issues of the period. As an example, "Iron Jack" is a riff on Victorian women's rights and the Marriage Women's Property Act of 1887. I don't have a formula. When I'm researching one piece, I often come across inspiration for other stories.

5. What piece of advice would you give a writer that is striving to become published? 
You can't go from the Earth to the Moon in one step. It can be a long journey, so prepare yourself mentally for it. 

Join a critique group, whether online or in person. This will help you gain fresh perspectives on your writing and get you accustomed to talking about your work in person (as you will, eventually, to an agent or publisher). It will also help you thicken your skin. You will need the latter, because rejections will happen. When they do, don't view them as negatives. View them as challenges to surmount.
Above all else, be professional and courteous to everyone you meet--editors, critique group members, publishers, other authors. Publishing is a small world, so you need to keep your nose clean. 
If you want to learn more about Mark Rossmore, listen to his music, or read some of his work, visit his website at Don’t forget to vote for him and his outstanding work at!

I hope you become more open to reading new genres. What do you think? Do you read inside your comfortable box? Have you unknowingly read work in the steampunk subgenre? Do you enjoy reading different and new genres?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games: One Subject, Two Mediums

Note: This review contains spoilers of The Hunger Games movie and book.

When you leave a theater after watching a movie adaptation of a bestselling book, you repeatedly hear audience members lamenting about the differences; how characters are incongruent from how they are described in the book, how key plot points are different or missing entirely, and that “that’s not how it happened in the book.” Audience members are correct in their observations. However, what they fail to remember is that although the same story is being told, the mediums in which they are told are quite different, and you will therefore have different reactions and thoughts about the same subject.

Most authors exercise the option of delving into one or more character’s minds. When reading, you are oftentimes privy to the thoughts of the main character(s), allowing the backstory, the intentions of the character, as well as the character’s emotions to develop through the thoughts of the character. In the book, the reader spent the majority of the time in Katniss’s mind. Through her thoughts, we understood her dilemma with Peeta, the pain and growth she experienced with her father’s death, and her true hatred for the Capital. Although some of the this information was presented in the movie, since we were no longer privy to Katniss’s thoughts, the impact and weight of it all fell through, lessening the pain and fear we felt for the protagonist.

A movie is 100% visual and auditory, whereas when reading a book, the reader only has his/her mind’s eye to draw from. If the author isn’t successful in fully describing a setting or character, the weight of a situation is diminished. When reading, if you didn't fully understand the skills of Peeta’s cake-decorating/camouflage skills, you weren't able to understand how he was able to hide in the bed of a river. In the movie, because it is all visual, you were able to see that his skills were invaluable. Although you might have understood how desolate District 12 looks while reading, the movie was able to bring the true destitution to life. A movie is more apt in describing and showing setting and the physical descriptions of a character than a book is able to.   

Books have the luxury of being any length. Movies, on the other hand, tend to be between 1 ½ and 2 hours long. A lot more information can be disclosed in a 384 pages book than in a 142 minute movie. Because of the time constraint, a director and screenwriter have to decide which story to tell. Unfortunately, the story they choose to tell isn’t necessarily the story the audience wants to hear. In the Hunger Games movie, the omniscient presence of the Capital was never fully realized. Although the audience was told why the games take place annually and that a person’s name was added to the drawing each time he/she received additional rations, the extent of the control of the government was not fully discussed. The moviegoer wasn't told that the rations given to the families is not enough to sustain a family, that they had no choice but to ask for additional rations, thereby raising the chance of their child’s name being picked for the games. The audience also wasn’t told that Katniss and Gale hunt illegally when going outside the electric fence, that they risk public punishment and execution by the Capital on a daily basis. Rue’s back story and the amount of peacekeeper control in her district were never mentioned in the movie either. Sometimes things have to be sacrificed when a book is adapted into a movie. I personally wish they hadn’t excluded the infinite threat and presence of the Capital.

As a movie, The Hunger Games was good. As a book, The Hunger Games was great. Unfortunately, a movie has many more constraints in which it has to work than a book does. However, by comparing the two, we are not comparing apples to apples. We have to see them as two separate pieces of art and appreciate each for its own abilities and weaknesses.
So now I’m curious as to what you think. Did you read the book or see the movie? Do you have any complaints or praise?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Of Mice and Men: Lessons Learned

A Quick Note: Before I begin discussing John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, I would like to apologize for my extended absence from the blogosphere. I have recently been working on several projects and was not able to focus on my blogging. I believe I have finally found a happy medium and am looking forward to blogging regularly again!

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a novella that discusses and details more of life’s lessons than most 1,000 page books I have read. 
When I was seventeen and flying to Germany to see my boyfriend at the time, Lennie taught me the importance of aspirations and desires. Although Lennie was not the brightest of characters, he knew that sometimes you have to take the longer route in life before you can reach your destination, before you can “live off the fatta the lan’.” When things do not go as intended, he taught me to imagine how things will be, that as long as you are actively working towards your goals, that they will become realized. My naïve mind must have blocked out Lennie’s final scene in the novel because for years thereafter, I clung to the lessons Lennie taught me. 
I’m not sure if life’s obstacles have hardened my outlook on life or if the current state of the economy and the despair reflected in most people’s faces have made me more pessimistic, but when I recently reread the novel, Lennie’s message no longer held hope for me. George, with his realistic outlook and hardened demeanor, became the character I related to. I didn’t always agree with his actions and decisions, but I understood his frustration with Lennie and his enthusiasm for a dream they would never claim as their reality and his current work and living situation. Oftentimes, George would lose himself in the stories he told Lennie of their future life together. The details were so vivid that he began believing that their dream would become a reality. However, because of mistakes made by both Lennie and George, George realized he would not be able to attain his goals and dreams. In order to protect himself and his best friend, he had to make a difficult decision that impacted their goals. George’s final lesson taught me that regardless of how many times you retell your plans and no matter how many good intentions you have, sometimes a decision you have to make will perpetually alter your future.
These were only a few of the lessons Lennie and George taught me. Racial inequalities and the expected roles of women were also discussed. The novella transpires during the Great Depression and the quality of life during this time is detailed as well. Unfortunately, I do not have time to discuss all themes, lessons, and characters within this one blog post.
I am, however, curious as to what John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men taught you. What do you remember most about the novella? Which character were you able to relate most to? Is the novella relevant today?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Best Laid Plans...

Twelve days have passed since the beginning of the New Year. Statistically speaking, most of you have already succumbed to the temptations you have vehemently been avoiding. The goals may have been unattainable from the start, or maybe your interest has waned. Some of you may still be going strong, gaining ground and achieving the goals you have set.
This year, my goals are to become published and to become a better writer. At the end of October, I submitted one of my short stories to several literary magazines. Only six have of them have responded, and those have been rejections. I believe in my story, though, and know it will find a home if I keep working at it. I will continue sending out submissions. I will be published by the end of 2012.
I don’t believe that you ever stop growing as a writer… unless you stop writing. I stopped posting blogs about a month and a half ago. A lot of it had to do with the overwhelming stress of the holidays. Some of it had to do with my inability to come up with new topics.
I still wasn’t quite sure what I wanted my blog to focus on. I recently realized that it needed to continue focusing on my two passions – reading and writing. I have finally come up with a plan. I will begin posting two blogs a week. One post will be a general post, covering any number of topics pertaining to reading or writing. The second post will solely focus on books I am currently reading. My reading list includes mostly classics and canonized works. I’ve always loved older books. While reading you learn about structure and characters and literary elements. They are books that contain models so many authors have copied since. Each contains a lesson to be learned.
Tonight, I will begin reading John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I’m not sure what I will read after this book. What do you think? What classic is your favorite? Which book would you like to see reviewed and discussed?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Staying Productive During the Holiday Season

In my household, the holiday season began this past Sunday on the 1st Advent, the first of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. I still have to make my Adventskranz (Advent wreath), fill the Adventskalendar (Advent calendar) with chocolates and other sweets, and decorate my home. Cookies need to be baked, gifts need to be bought and wrapped, and Christmas cards need to be mailed. My anxiety level is steadily rising as I realize how little time I will have to devote to my writing.
I love Christmas, I really do. However, the additional social engagements and to-do lists are crowding my already full days, and I feel I have to make a plan in order to maintain a semblance of productivity. Here are my tips:

Write 10 Minutes Daily: I keep a cookie jar full of writing prompts next to my computer. Each day, I pull a prompt out of the jar and write for a full ten minutes. If I have the time and the ideas, I keep writing beyond the ten minutes. If not, I file the prompt and writing away. (Sidenote: Do not throw your prompts and writing away, even if you don’t like what you have written. You never know what gems are hidden in your short pieces.
Write a Creative Nonfiction Christmas Letter: I’m sure several of you have received a Christmas letter detailing the firsts little Georgie has accomplished since he was born a few months ago or the wonderful wedding and honeymoon your third cousin enjoyed this past summer. Write your own Christmas letter that you can send to friends and family. Even if nonfiction is not your genre, it is a great way to expand your writing horizons and to chronicle your family’s life.
Read Magazines: Magazines and articles are piled high on my coffee table. Throughout the year, I tackle larger projects. More than likely you won’t have time to write a novel or read Atlas Shrugged during the holidays. Focus on the shorter readings that are accumulating on your coffee table instead.
Listen to Audio Books: You may be spending a considerable amount of time in the car driving to relatives or sitting on the living room floor wrapping Christmas gifts. Upload an audio book to your IPod and expand your literary mind while completing some of the more monotonous tasks of the holiday season.
Set an Attainable Goal Weekly: This week I plan on rewriting a short story. I have to change the point of view from second to third person. My characters, description, and plot are written, so a few hours this Saturday and Sunday devoted to rewriting will allow me to achieve my goal. Don’t set a goal too daunting. More than likely you will not even attempt to begin your writing because you will feel you don’t have enough time to tackle the project since your sister-in-law will be showing up in two hours with three children in tow.

The last tip I have is something I abide by all year long: Always Carry a Small Notebook with You. Jot down any funny family occurrences or loving moments you witness this holiday season. You never know what great stories can be developed from these snippets of events!
I hope these tips assist you in staying productive this holiday season. So now it’s your turn readers. What are your tips for staying on top of your reading and writing this holiday season? 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Defining Great Literature

Every one of my literature and creative writing professors began class with the question 'what makes great literature great.' Not until I began reading more prose for my own benefit and less for class was I able to solidly define what great literature is to me.
Great literature is defined by effective character development and the efficacious use of metaphors, similes, and other literary devises. A great piece of prose must entail layers that the reader has to recognize and peel away. If a reader is not allowed to think, to search for truths, then the reading becomes mundane and lifeless. I want to finish a book, a poem, a short story and feel disappointment and a sense of accomplishment simultaneously.
I do not want the author to give me the answers, but rather make me want to search further, dig deeper, and start asking the questions to understand the truths that the character may never fully realize.
Please do not misunderstand me. I don't like when the author confuses the reader with inconsistent plot development, vague descriptions, and confusing characters. Instead, a great piece of literature entails clear and succinct prose, the effective use of symbols, imagery, metaphors, as well as other literary devises, and cogent character development.
Unfortunately, good and bad literature outweighs great literature. As a result, I continue my quest to find the great literature that I know exists.
To initiate discussion, I would like to ask you to add comments describing what great literature entails. The elements of what makes great literature great is purely subjective, and no wrong answers exist. So you tell me, what makes a great piece of literature great?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Taking the Southern Route

In 2009, my fiancé and I loaded a twenty-two foot Penske truck and moved our lives and belongings 888 miles from Lawton, Oklahoma to Pensacola, Florida.
            Twenty-four months before our big move, we had decided that in order to prosper, we would have to leave Lawton. I wasn’t sad about leaving the town behind. My best friends were both moving away as well, and although I knew I would miss my mother, there wasn’t anything holding me there. I was going to graduate college, and with a Bachelor’s degree in English, my options were limited in Oklahoma.
            Making the decision to move was simple. Choosing a place to move to was a bit more challenging. My fiancé’s two children live in Louisiana, so our options were limited to the southern states. Since we are an interracial couple and acceptance wasn’t likely in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, we opted on moving to either Florida or Texas. Living near a military post was also a requirement. We visited San Antonio, Texas and Pensacola, Florida. In the end, the white beaches and close proximity to universities at which we could both study lured us to Pensacola.
            We found a nice duplex to move into on the internet, and the day after my 25th birthday, we pulled into the driveway of our new home. Within two months, I found a position at a Motorola two-way radio company. I’ve been working there as a marketing executive and customer service representative ever since.
            Making the choice to better our lives and taking the risk in moving to the unknown was easy. Living in Pensacola where life is quite the opposite of any place I’ve ever lived has proven to be more difficult. Another move appears to be imminent.
            So tell me readers, if you could move anywhere on the map, where would you move to?