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.016 – You have made me very desperate.

The internet is for memes! (Or porn, if you’re of the over 18 set, but we’ll try and keep things here R or under.) There’s one floating around that tells you what part you play in the new Avengers film. I got this:

Lara Eckener is a member of Loki’s Army and married to Loki and is a/an Frost Giant.

I am perfectly pleased with this. Loki was my favorite thing about the Thor movie and I can’t wait to see the new Avengers film. Three days! Speaking of movies, let’s talk about something I watched recently that I found to be more inspiring than simply exciting.

More than occasionally, doing the Wrong Opinions podcast with Matthew Bowers teaches me things that I don’t think I would have run across otherwise. Sometimes it’s a bit of trivia. Sometimes I discover an actor or director I’d like to spend more time stalking. And sometimes I come across a new movie altogether that is simply wonderful. This weekend we were gifted with the latter.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a feature length animated film from 1926 by silhouette artist Lotte Reiniger. It’s considered the first feature length animated film and the only existing one from that time. We’re not actually sure what we have now is the way the movie was supposed to look, because it was considered lost and has been restored from rolls of silver nitrate and notes left by Lotte and others who worked on it. Made in Germany in the 20s, it tells the fairytale of Prince Achmed and some of his adventures. I spent a good amount of the first half of the film flicking through all the different filters we have to view this film with. Germany in the twenties, The Arabian Nights, early animation. It’s a fascinating artifact.

More than that though, it’s a gorgeous film. There are some bumps in the story telling, but the art more than made up for the simpleness of the tale. When I worked at Disney I sometimes helped out on the artist carts and would watch the silhouette artists do their work. One of the women would cut out intricate designs and scenes when it was slow and it’s incredible to watch the way their hands work and how sure they are as they cut away the negative space around the image they see. It’s that that I called back to as I watched this and marveled at how delicate and intricate the clothing was rendered and how clear the expressions of the characters were and how detailed the backgrounds had been made.

I really want to recommend this to everyone. I think I’ll buy the DVD and spend some time looking for other similar works. Searching Lotte Reiniger on Youtube will get you several of her animations. And in case you’re curious what us slackers have to say about it, you can listen to our latest episode. In it we discuss Prince Achmed, The Pirates: Band of Misfits!, and 21 Jump Street.

And if you’re interested in more animated features containing silhouette work, there’s also The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello, which I can’t believe I forgot to mention during the podcast.  Jasper Morello is a steampunk short film created in 2008.  It’s one of the very first things that I found when I was going on my mad dig for information about the genre.  It’s exciting and a little creepy and everything I love about an animated short.  The sillhouette work isn’t as intricate as Lotte Reiniger’s, but it’s in the same vein and lovely in its own right.

.015 – They let you hold weapons?

This past weekend the Florida Steampunk Exhibition East was held in Daytona Beach, Florida, which is only an hour or so away from me as the crow flies, so I had to go.  I feel like I don’t spend enough time here talking about how much I love steampunk.  I talk some about how I’m writing in the genre, but I don’t give it the same breathless space and time here as I do in other places around the internet.  So just to catch you up to speed: I LOVE STEAMPUNK.

I love it as a genre and an artform and a dress sense.  I love the endless possibility and the optimistic daring do of the people involved and the characters that they write or portray.  I’m just as fascinated with the darkly tinged not-so-nice-history parts of it as I am with the bright, shiny leather and brass parts.  And as you might imagine, this all lays very neatly over my general appreciation for Wacky Victorians anyway, so it’s a perfect fit for a person such as myself who loves reading and writing in the science fiction genre.

Even more specific to my urge to attend the convention than my love of steampunk in general, I had seen that there was going to be a three hour panel/class called Victorian Self-Defense.  I had thought that it would be about bartitsu (which is an interesting subject in itself), so you can imagine my jaw dropping surprise when Alli and I showed up and found two gentlemen standing at the head of the room with rapiers.

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We both sat down and immediately began taking furious notes.  Two of our characters are kind of swords-for-the-cause in employ of the main gentleman driving our revolution, and while I had done research into sword fighting with both fencing foils (and epees) and sabers, there is little internet or book research that can compare to having two people in front of you actually explaining things like footwork and posture and timing.  We spent a good thirty minutes taking pictures and scribbling diagrams and whispering back and forth to each other about how cool this all was…and then the instructors* asked if anyone wanted some hands-on instruction.

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Alli jumped at the chance, and I followed.  There were about seven to ten of us at the time.  Each one of us was handed a bamboo rod shown how to stand and we were off.  The two instructors would explain and demonstrate what they wanted us to do–things like forcing your opponent’s sword offline or giving and avoiding a beat–and then have each of us perform the action against them.  The two gentlemen running the class were professional and patient and seemed to enjoy being able to have the interaction, and that made the whole thing all the more enjoyable for the rest of us.

Then came the tipping point in Alli and my’s mutual giddiness about rapier instruction in general.  They acted out a throw and then had each one of us practice and perform it against one of them using the rapier.  I know that logistically they had to give us the rapiers, because bamboo rods don’t have hilts with which to hold down another person’s blade, but I honestly felt a bit like I’d been handed Auryn** in that moment.  The sword was a little heavier than I thought it would be and the basket fits around your hand in a way that makes you part of the sword and just.  It was an awesome moment and I really want to thank the two of them for it, as well as the organizers of the event for inviting them and setting up an experience like that in the first place.

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The rest of the day was kind of spent in the hazy glow of ‘oh god they let me hold a sword!’  I was extra pleased as well that Alli noted during the class that most of the sword fight scenes I’d written between our characters were actually pretty solid, technically.  Not that they’ll end up in the novel because I just wrote them as character pieces, but it’s extra nice to know that I wasn’t completely off base.  (Though I am going to have to make Edmund spend a bit more time with foil or rapier when he’s teaching William, even while he prefers saber himself.)

We were still buzzing from the rush of it all when we got home in the evening, so right now we’re looking into fencing clubs here in Orlando.  You never know, it could be a fun way to get in more exercise and learn a new skill.  It is definitely a way to have a few more of All Of The Experiences and would give me even more things to blog about.

Now for the informative part of the post!

  • If you would like to learn more about steampunk, there have been a whole slew of excellent articles written, but Tor does a Steampunk Week that always has articles of interest for people who are new to the concept or find it all to be old hat.  The links from 2011 can be found here.
  • The instructors of the class gave me several resources for reading about swordsmanship and style with different types of weapons.  Those are:
  •  Chivalry Bookshelf – who publishes many out of print texts on all sorts of things, including swordplay.
  • HEMA – The website for Historical European Martial Arts.
  • The Western Martial Arts Coalition.
  • And the works (if I can find them) of William Wilson, Achille Marozzo, Fiore dei Liberi, and George Silver.
All of that should keep me and you guys busy for quite some time.  Now I must away to work some more at our wonderful little steampunk world.  It had been too long when I started in on it today and immediately fell in love with our characters all over again.  Funny how that happens.  And just appease the voice of Edmund in my head after all this talk of straight edges with points at the end, here’s my favorite of the sabers I’ve researched.  Turkish, 19th century, housed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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* I didn’t catch their names! It’s not in the program or on the site or readily available in any search done by me in the last ten minutes! If anyone knows, please share so I can add them to the write up and also love them from afar.

** Auryn, for those of you not into 80s movies, is the serpent pendant from The Neverending Story that guides Atreyu on his quest.

.011 – To know absolutely nothing is certainly human.

Australia!  I don’t know very much about it!

Back in February a local writing friend sent me a link for a steampunk story call.  The woman who is editing the anthology wants stories from the Victorian period set in almost any place but England or the States.  She has a specific list of location wishes.  We’re not in any way obligated to fulfill those wishes, she just wanted to point out areas which aren’t typically covered by people writing in the steampunk genre.  I took a gander at the list and decided that it would be fun to set something in Australia and it would give me cause to do some reading and learn more about the area in general.

My basic starting premise was to deal with a young woman who had been born into one of the native groups (my reading suggests different attitudes towards whether using the term aboriginal is currently culturally correct) and then had been ‘rescued’ by some of the European settlers and raised by them.  The story itself was to pick up when she learns some of the truths about who she is exactly and denounces her white family to leave and find her true home.  (Ostensibly to touch on the idea that no home is really ‘true’, because I saw Garden State one too many times or something.)  Over all the story would be kind of an adventure and she’d pick up a lady sidekick who she may or may not develop feelings for.   Anyway, I felt like all of this would be a good way to break down the themes of colonialism, race, gender, and sexuality.

The problem I continue to run into is that I really know very, very little about Australia, and while I’ve done some reading, it’s hard for me to get a good feel of the place during that period.  I think it’s simply that I haven’t been steeped in it throughout my life the way I’ve been steeped in period work from the US, Canada, the UK, France, and even Japan, so it’s just not as comfortable.  Also, as a denizen of the internet, I’m extremely wary of committing the very issues I’m trying to write about.  I don’t want to fetishize her native background and I don’t want to be too disparaging about either the native peoples or the European settlers.  I feel a bit like I’ve taken my usual old tightrope and moved it from the skyscrapers over New York to Niagra Falls and the change in view below is throwing off my comfort in performing the feat.

So the question becomes, do I get an Australian tutor to teach me about their perspective on the issues of the time period, or do I simply give in to my fears and change the setting?  I know I could come up with something interesting set in Germany, say, that wouldn’t leave me with this many uncertainties.  But then, it might not cover the themes I want to cover.  It certainly couldn’t cover them in the same way.  (Unless there were Roma in Germany at the time.  Although, that wouldn’t have as much to do with colonialism in particular.)

We have to query the story before we can send it in, so this worrying might all be for not if she doesn’t except the query, but that just makes me want to choose the right mixture of setting and issues all the more.

Anyone out there want to give some informal history lessons?

.003

Oh, February, is that you?  I didn’t see you standing there.  As you’ve probably noted, intelligent scamp that you are, things around here are a bit of a mess at the moment.  Please make yourself comfortable on the couch while I tidy up.  Have a biscuit?

January
The plan for January was less impossible than the plan for the coming months, since I didn’t even sit down and outline my yearly goals until about the fifteenth or so.  In January I wanted merely to complete a draft of the short story I’m working on and then start in earnest on the novel that I’m writing with my compatriot (Coming Soon!).

Words: 9,461

Flubs:
I did not get a rough draft of Volunteer Vampires completed.  I got hung up in the science of it, which I think I need to just stop doing for right now.  It’s already mad and impossible that there are vampires in space in the 19th century, I’m probably just wasting time worrying over whether they could locate the source of a message being beamed from deep space.  I know that my novel co-writer likes to tinker out the science and make sure it’s technically possible, but I also know that scifi doesn’t always need that information.  Hell, I just re-watched Ghost in the Shell last night, and while they spend a lot of time hemming and hawing over what a ‘person’ is, they spend absolutely no time talking about how it’s possible for the Major’s camouflage to work the way it does or how androids work.  They’re just accepted parts of the world.  I think I’m at the stage where I need to accept things and move on with the story.  If it’s really important that they pinpoint where a sound is coming from I can work on it in edits.

I also did not get more than a chapter into the Steampunk novel we’re working on.  We’ve been talking about it for years now and trying to get all the pieces in the right places and I’ve been itchy to just write things for months.  I need to get on that so I can have better, more accomplished news at the beginning of next month.

Follow throughs:
However, we did get a good, solid outline down.  And even though there are still a few niggling questions, I at least feel like I know enough about what’s happening between our characters and where they are in the first half of the book that I can just sit down and start to get it out.  That’s a good feeling.

I also wrote a silly poem and tinkered about with, not only other bits of the Steampunk, but the Big Damn Existential Science Fiction Novel, which is the third novel length thing in the stall at the moment.  So many ideas, so little execution.  But well, that’s what I’m out to cure this year.

Words To Date: 9,461

February
The plan for February is to hit the ground running, catch up with January, and then execute the following:
Have a completed draft of Volunteer Vampires done and sent to my betas. Make sure that by the end of the month it’s ready to submit to the anthology I’m assuming is happening.  *fingers crossed*

Have a rough draft of half of the Steampunk novel.

Write a poem to submit…somewhere.  I’ll need to go through that issue of Poets & Writers I bought and look at different markets.  I fully admit that poetry is not a part of the industry I usually keep an eye on. And it’s all just kind of a silly bet with myself, really.  We’ll see where that goes.

So, that’s that.  Should be easy enough, provided I just sit down and do it.  If ChairToBum glue was a thing, I would look into buying stock for it.

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