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 Steampunkchronicle.com. 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. 
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If you want to learn more about Mark Rossmore, listen to his music, or read some of his work, visit his website at http://www.escapetheclouds.com. Don’t forget to vote for him and his outstanding work at Steampunkchronicle.com!

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

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

Point-of-View
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.

Visual
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.   

Time
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

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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!
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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 na├»ve 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?