steampunk

How The Skylark Got Her WINGS

Those Who Would Kill A King by Archia

Those Who Would Kill A King by Archia

In a WWI alt-history fantasy, the first female Glider pilot becomes a reluctant vigilante to escape capture behind enemy lines. Disguised and armed with a stolen rocket pack, she becomes the infamous Skylark and changes the course of a war where the poor and downtrodden are the only ones to pay the price.

 

Reuts Publications, publisher of my upcoming The Accidental Turn Series, has just announced that we have also signed another three-book deal for The Skylark’s Saga.

So. Wow… wow.  Well, I know what I’ll be doing for the next two years. Two three book deals. How cool is that?

Are you all excited? I am very excited. Nervous, yes, but happy. Very, very happy.

The story of how The Skylark’s Saga came to be is this:

I moved to Toronto in 2007, did my MA, and made some author friends. In that time I wrote and polished Triptych, and in April 2009, pitched it to Dragon Moon Press. While they were reading it to decide if they wanted to sign it (they did, and it came out to great critical acclaim in 2011) I, like the dutiful author I was, began a new novel.

Or tried to write a new novel, at least. Over the next two years I started and stopped a few books, finished one and promptly shelved it, and in general spent a lot of time spinning my wheels and trying to figure out where I wanted to direct my career. I wrote and published The Dark Side of the Glass, but none of the novels I wrote or came up with were what my then-agented was looking for.

In 2010 I looked at my new author-type friends Lesley Livingston and Adrienne Kress and thought, “Gee, this YA thing is taking off in a bigger way than I thought it would. I can… I can do that, can’t I? I can write an action/adventure Chosen One love story in an alternate world with a YA protag. How hard can it be?”

(In retrospect: turns out? YA is really effing hard. I have so much respect for YA writers. So much. I was barely a teenager when I was a teenager, so trying to get back into that mindset was difficult for me.)

So, with this idea that I wanted to write my first YA book, I began looking for ideas.

Then of my friends, during a particularly inebriated party at a Steampunk convention in mid-2011, dared me to make up a story based on the costumes/personas of the people in the circle who were drinking with us. I did. It was about a mechanic-turned-vigilante, a brothel madam spymaster and her hired muscle, an evil king, and a debonair bounty hunter. And the next day another friend said to me, “You know, that was a good idea. You should write that.”

I wasn’t sure I agreed, but you never know until you try, right? So I tried.

Eventually I had to shift around some of the personas, and swapped some of the characters, but in the end I think it actually made for a good story. More than that, there was definitely enough story there to keep the narrative going into a series.

Right around when I finished the book was when I was starting to look for an agent. Now that I had the leverage of the award-nominated Triptych and the help of my editor to connect with some bigger agencies, it was a much different experience than when I had been shopping Triptych my first novel.  I sent the book around, and got a handful of requests for partials, and about five requests for fulls. Three of the agents wanted The Phone Call.

I scheduled three phone calls, and took them sitting the hall outside of my day-job office.

One agent offered straight up; one agent offered pending revisions. One agent (Laurie McLean)  said that she was considering offering pending revisions. However, she said (in a very warm and motherly way, which I thought was very good of her) suggested that if I had an agent who loved the book enough that he was willing to sign me and work with me on the revisions, that I might be better to go with him. That, she explained, was proof of an agent really loving a book – that they loved it even when it wasn’t ready yet.

So, I signed with him.

Of course, I didn’t realize that he would want me to change everything about the book.

He thought the girl was too feminist; that my prose was too issue-laden (he kept saying, “No, write me something like Triptych” which, if anyone’s read it is the most issue-laden book I’d ever written); thought I should turn my protagonist into a boy or make her prettier; didn’t like “that Victorian romance nonsense – if they’re gonna do it, they should just do it“; seemed okay with how I made her religious, even if it was a made-up religion, but was sometimes snide about it; didn’t like that there wasn’t originally a romance in it at all and really didn’t like it when I explained that “getting a man isn’t actually the be-all and end-all of every girl’s existence, you know. Especially when she’s a vigilante wearing a rocket pack and spending her nights dodging bullets.”

He was contradictory, confusing, and kept trying to pare it back into something more and more insipid and washed out and …. meh. I loved the novel less and less the longer we worked it. I was getting really upset. The one thing he did that I really agreed with was to suggest removing the bounty hunter character, as he kept getting in the way of the protagonist being, well, heroic.

In the end I wrote 74 drafts of the damn thing.

He started shopping it because, I feel like, I bullied him into it. I was sure that he was just being whiney about how empowered the female character was. But by then the book was so muddy that no one wanted it. Editors barely understood it. Heck, I barely understood it, and I wrote the darn thing.

I was very, very disheartened with my first experience with an agent.

By chance I met Laurie McLean at BEA a few months later, and she asked me how things were with The Skylark’s Song and I was so frustrated and upset with it all that I barely managed to keep from bursting into tears on the spot.  We talked instead about what she thought of the book, and what changes should have been made, and I departed the conversation furious with myself that I hadn’t gone with her as my agent. What Laurie suggested was a lot more thoughtful and level headed than what I had been wrestling with.

It made me realize that I had picked wrong. While a good agent in his own right, my agent was not the right agent for me. After several more conversations with my agent, I decided the best thing for me and my work was to part ways with him. Soon after, Laurie offered me representation and I was happy to accept.

We took The Skylark’s Song back about twenty five drafts, back to when the story was a lot let muddied and my protagonist was still herself. I created plot synopsis for two more books – The Skylark’s Search and The Skylark’s Sacrifice, with a vague hope that maybe someone would want a trilogy.

And right around that time, I was talking to Bob of Victor Sierra, and he had mentioned that they were writing a new album, Yesterday’s Tomorrow. I jokingly asked if they’d like to write the actual Skylark’s Song Song, and he said yup and I sent him the book and… then they actually did it. Which. Okay. AWESOME.


It made me feel confident in my book again. It made me realize that when I looked at the book I only saw the upset and suffering that it had caused me. But when other people read it , they were seeing the story that I had originally fallen in love with.

The story that I had forgotten to love amid all the edits and revisions, and un-revisions.

A story that I fell back in love with.

While Laurie shopped The Skylark’s Song, I finished up what eventually became The Untold Tale. (You can read the publication journey for The Untold Tale here.) It was signed earlier this year with Reuts Publications.  Laurie was still shopping The Skylark’s Song then, but I had started to prepare myself for the truth that Laurie might want to shelve it. I still loved the story and the world, but there are times when, as professional writers, you have to make the choice to stop flogging the project that won’t sell and focus on one that will.

There were vague plans about boutique publishing, or self publishing, and I even reached out to some artist friends to request quotes for cover images.

But that is not what ended up happening.

You see, when a publisher signs a book (or book series) with an author, they generally ask the agent “Hey, does that author have anything else we could look at?”

And when Reuts asked this, Laurie said, “Why yes. Yes, she does.”

I don’t know what happened on the Reuts side of things (probably some squeeing – that’s Ashley, Summer and Kisa for you, they’re unabashed fans of all the books they’re publishing; it’s so flattering), and I’m sure their post will walk about their reaction to the book, but on my side there was a lot of blinking and disbelief.

I know, more than once, I said, “Wait, really? Wait. Really? Really-really?”

The book that I thought nobody would want was wanted. The book that I feared, once upon a time, was unsalvageable was salvaged. The story I told my friends, laughing, sitting around at a convention, dressed up and dreaming, will be shared with the world. Songs were written about it, and now it will finally see the light of day! (In 2017!)

So I’m happy to say that as of The Skylark’s Song has been signed in a three book deal with Reuts!  And there are developments coming with the song. And that I am going to cosplay the bananas out of this book.

Links to More Cool Stuff!

JM FreyHow The Skylark Got Her WINGS
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A Dirigible Journey – Steampunk Documentary Now Online

A Dirigible Journey

Created by Dragon Peak Productions

A Canadian documentary about Steampunk featuring a bakers dozen of Toronto-area makers, merchants, aritsts and writers. (Including yours truely!)

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Dragon Peak Productions is a film production company that is based out of Toronto, Ontario. The company was established in 2011 and we currently produce all forms of digital media, including promotional videos, music videos, documentaries, and short films.

 

Being passionate about our filmmaking, we challenge ourselves to be creative and original with each project that we undertake. We aim for perfection in our work and we strive to ensure our client’s utmost satisfaction.

“As an artist, I feel that we must try many things — but above all, we must dare to fail. You must have the courage to be bad — to be willing to risk everything to really express it all.”

—John Cassavetes

JM FreyA Dirigible Journey – Steampunk Documentary Now Online
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Ruffus The Dog’s Steampunk Adventure!

I’ve been playing it a bit close to the vest, but I’m happy to be able to announce that I am part of a GREAT kid’s feature film project: RUFFUS THE DOG’S STEAMPUNK ADVENTURE

Last May I spent a week working with an amazing group of actors, puppeteers, costumers, and filmmakers among whose credits number  beloved films and TV series like Labyrinth, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and The Big Comfy Couch, Beetlejuice: The Animated Series,  Goosebumps, and too many others to list. (I worked very hard to be totally pro and not fling my arms around Robbo every few minutes and squee “Ludo friend!”) We also worked with the amazingly talented students of Sheridan College.  It wasn’t my first time in a green screen studio, but it was certainly the biggest and most encompassing I’ve experienced, and it was my first time being surrounded with puppets, too! In just a week, the team filmed the first block of this fun, funny, and touching adventure.

The trailer is coming together, but in order for us to film the rest, we need your help.

Robbo Mills and the creative team behind this amazing computer animated and puppet-driven Steampunk feature film have 47 days to raise $32,000 – hopefully more – and that means making some noise about it!

Robbo will be adding updates to the IndieGoGo as the campaign continues – and watch the teaser trailer carefully, because it will evolve, grow, and expand.

That’s right, the more we raise, the more gets added to the trailer!

(How cool is that?)

There are already some great behind the scenes photos and production stills, so you can see that this will be a quality film for the whole Steampunkin’ family.

Please consider supporting this great artistic endeavour!

Links

IndieGoGo Campaign || Website  ||  Steampunk Adventure Website  ||  Facebook || Fan Page  ||  Twitter || YouTube Channel

JM FreyRuffus The Dog’s Steampunk Adventure!
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Interview: Victor Sierra and “Yesterday’s Tomorrow”

VictorSierra-NextAlbumSleeve
          Those in the know are aware that I am a wee bit of a Steampunk. I quite enjoy the aesthetic as a cosplayer, and I’ve been trying to pull together a Steampunk novel series for several years now. (I think we’re aaaaaaaalmost there).
         I have a soft spot for Victor Sierra, an extremely talented Paris-based Steampunk band. I reviewed their album ELECTRIC RAIN, and was lucky enough to strike up an acquaintance with the band. Several months ago, after a brainstorming session with my literary agent about how to expand, market and work on the Steampunk novel I was polishing, I hit on the idea of asking Victor Sierra if they might be interested in writing a song about the novel. They were!
         I think “The Skylark’s Song” is a fantastic interpretation of the novel. There’s this great industrial drive to the song, which really plays with the concept of the novel being set in a world just about to enter an Industrial Era, and there’s something about the discordant clash of voices that plays into the fact that the novel takes place during war-time. I think my favourite part is that they sing the novel… and then they play the epilogue! I know many of you haven’t read the book yet, but trust me when I say the song is awesome, and sharp, and right on the nose.
Want to hear it? Here it is!
         One reviewer said, of the track:
The use of an oboe always seems to evoke a lighthearted but tragically flawed sequence.. When mixed with a wailing saxophone the brightest of music has very stark shadows within.. Such is the case with “Freyleche Apokalypse”, like a carnivale gone imperceptibly awry the insipid imposing beat belie the essence of the final track “Skylark’s Song” as absolutely ineffable and inevitable.. The shadow of Victor Sierra lingers just behind the eyes and and reaches to entirely ensconce anyone with improved inner visualization information through their audio interface with extreme effectiveness and absolute precision.
On the eve of the release of their second album, YESTERDAY’S TOMORROW (dropping June 15 2013), Commander Bob, Anouk and Big Machine were kind enough to answer some interview questions here.
I’m not going to review the album because, hey, there’s a song written for me on it! But there are two great reviews if you click here. And honestly, it’s just a fantastic, atmospheric, elegantly rough collection of songs. It’s well worth the purchase.

Photograph by Jim Tinios - Steampunk rules!

1.Tell us a little bit about yourselves! Who are you, how did you come together?

 

bobCommander Bob:
As far as I can remember, music has always been central in my life. I was composing in my head before having even touched an instrument. I have been through several musical trends and  formed several bands. Whatever style I was in for a while was only a platform for me to experiment and evolve towards something else. I moved too fast and I was the engine while all my co-members were sort of  breaks. It has been a drag until I met Anouk and we formed Victor Sierra.
AnoukAnouk:
Actually I’m not a princess!!! But perhaps I’m one in the end! I was an actress, and I became a vocalist when I met Bob. since then I’ve had a child and then I became a fashion designer… In Victor Sierra I’m all of these at the same time. I could say I put myself together… So I must be a Princess after all.
Big MachineBig Machine :
New wave, cold wave, no wave, 60’s garage punk, blues, electro, ambient, dark ambient and Krautrock. Victor Sierra was created before I came in but their sound was definitely something for me…
Photograph by Jim Tinios - Steampunk rules!2.  You’ve probably been asked this before, but what makes music “Steampunk”? Why and how did you decide that Victor Sierra would be steampunk?
bobCommander Bob:
When Big Machine joined the band three years ago, he told us about Steampunk. We had never heard of it before. So we did some research and all of a sudden we found out that we were not alone, at last! Every single piece of the puzzle seemed to fall into place… The dystopia, the “uchronical” visions, the outfits and contraptions, the mix of genres… The encounter of romance and technology.  Victor Sierra had been a steampunk band from the beginning without us being actually aware. But I would like to mention that Dieselpunk does attract me, as well. That’s how we came to create the imaginary Airship Hydrogen Queen -of which I’m the Commander! I would rather speak of retro- futrurism. It’s Yesterday’s Tomorrow!
AnoukAnouk:
Everything was there at once, clothes, music, jewelery, the universe… At one point  we were suggested we were  SP, a click on google to understand what it was about, and we realized we were at the right place: home…
Big MachineBig Machine :
We had been playing for a while when I realized : Victor Sierra is a retro-futuristic band. We are Steamers but we don’t know it yet ! It really changed my life… -_o
(Author’s note: How? Now I’m facinated…)
Photograph by Jim Tinios - Steampunk rules!3.  What do you think are the connections between steampunk music and literature?
bobCommander Bob:
Steampunk started with literature. Steampunk literature is a real genre, steampunk music isn’t.  Steampunk has to do with words, overall ambient, stories, universes, alternate history…Not with musical notes. And this is the reason why music is so diverse in the steampunk world. In terms of music, we have nothing to do  with Veronique Chevalier for example and at the same time we have everything in common with her work because we look in the same direction,  even though through different goggles. Our friends from the Clockwork Dolls are much more romantic than we are and yet, we share an epic vision of the world as it should have been. Mark Rossmore from “Escape the Clouds” is another example of a wonderful songwriter following different paths leading to the same imaginary place.
Photograph by Jim Tinios - Steampunk rules!4. Where do you draw inspiration from when you’re writing a song? Do the words come first, or the music?
bobCommander Bob:
There’s a song composing itself in my mind. Sometimes it gets tiring, even boring! I’ve always been writing about the other side of things. Even simple ones. I’m not interested in telling the truth about things everybody knows to be true. And even more so when they’re wrong!
Photograph by Jim Tinios - Steampunk rules!5.  Do you speak all the languages you sing in?
bobCommander Bob:
I speak French, English and Spanish. I’ve been writing in those three languages for years. As my name shows I’m a Jew originated from Eastern Europe. I don’t speak Yiddish but I heard it a lot in my family when I was a child. It was the language people used for children not to understand. But as always, we got some words here and there. My friend Elsa Drezner writes the lyrics of our Yiddish songs.
AnoukAnouk:
I personally speak French very well! Yiddish is a bit alien to me, though the “cabaret” aspect this language induces is quite close to me. Besides I understand and speak some English and Spanish, well,  mostly after some shots of Rum. And I don’t start my vocalist work before having  perfectly penetrated the meaning of the lyrics. I sing words, stories, situations I can feel mine.
Photograph by Jim Tinios - Steampunk rules!6. Do you find any difference at all between European venues or fans to the North American ones?
bobCommander Bob:
We’re not talking about differences here but about a huge gap! France is dead to innovation. Interesting venues have all    disappeared. Bands and audience are very badly greeted in the ones remaining these days. But it’s a general atmosphere in France. I’m sure you already heard about it. About fans, our audience is much more on your side of the pond than on ours. And we don’t mind. We’re much more attracted to North America.
AnoukAnouk:
What do you think we want to live in America for? As for me, I don’t want to say more on that subject. About all the disappointment we get from that European inertia…
Photograph by Jim Tinios - Steampunk rules!7.   What was it like, running your first IndieGoGo Campaign?
bobCommander Bob:
Actually, it was our second campaign of the kind. Our first one made us cross the ocean last year to go and perform at Steampunk World’s Fair (it was fantastic!). As for this one, we reached our goal which was to be able to record the songs and pay the manufacturer. A second album is always a perilous adventure (?). But it looks that as far as today it’s warmly welcomed by critics. We’re very happy and we hope our audience will enjoy it as well.
AnoukAnouk:
Just one word about Indiegogo… As you already know, I make the contraptions we propose. And what I enjoy so much is that I make each of them thinking of the person who ordered it, even though I don’t know her/him. Her/his name is in front of me, I imagine this person, I sew for her/him… and I like that!
Photograph by Jim Tinios - Steampunk rules!8.      You’ve composed  music for a webseries, and now for my own novel – what other collaborations have you done? What would your dream project be?
bobCommander Bob:
We also recorded “Ecos de Voces Lejanas” from the novel by Josué Ramos, Madrid, Spain. It has been a great pleasure to write this song. What pleases me is the huge difference between this track and Skylark’s Song and Dirigible Days. I have a lot of “dream projects” of which I’ll talk about when I’m ready. For now, our goal would be to perform more often on stage and mostly in North America where we have our audience as I mentioned before. We spent several months locked in our studio. We need some fresh air!
AnoukAnouk:
I speak for myself only. It’s something I haven’t talked about with Bob and Pierre yet. I would love to write a Steampunk  Opera with other bands and Clockwork Dolls in particular. Yes…as simple as that!
Photograph by Jim Tinios - Steampunk rules!9.      Tell us about writing “Skylark’s Song”, please!  What was your experience?
bobCommander Bob:
It could sound a bit excessive. It may sound as if we wanted to please you. But it’s the truth and I don’t mind what people will think about it: It has been the most pleasurable song to write, compose and record. I loved your novel and it inspired me a lot. I suppose it shows when you listen to the song. I love the way Anouk sings and I can’t wait to perform it live.
(Authors note: D’aww! Thanks guys. I was on pins in needles the first time I heard it, and it stole the breath from my lungs and made my scalp prickle. It so much captures the heart of the novel.)
AnoukAnouk:
I know that this question wasn’t meant for me. But I just want to say that I love to sing it. It deeply moves me. I found myself in it, in its lyrics and music.
10.  You guys are all super awesome – tell us how we can buy your albums, book you for a show, and follow you on social media!
You can buy all our albums here:
http://victorsierra.bandcamp.com
And like our band page here:
You can get all info about us here:
You can follow us on twitter here:
https://twitter.com/BobEisenstein
You can follow our Youtube Channel here:
JM FreyInterview: Victor Sierra and “Yesterday’s Tomorrow”
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Gadgets, Goggles, and The Doctor

Elightenment, the Doctor Who Information Network FanZine, has an article by me on Doctor Who and Steampunk in issue 168! Order your copy here.

Sneak Preview:

The Gadgets, The Goggles, and The TARDIS

Or

Why Doctor Who is Steampunk

            There have been arguments back and forth – especially since the Moffat-era TARDIS desktop theme change – about whether or not Doctor Who qualifies as Steampunk. To my mind, it does… ish.

I don’t think of Steampunk as a genre (as genres require tropes and recognizable narrative patterns), but rather as an aesthetic. And as such, Doctor Who is Steampunk. But only as much as it is sometimes Western, and sometimes Soap Opera, and sometimes Psychological Thriller, and sometimes Fantasy. The appeal of Doctor Who is that from week to week, the style and the type of stories being told vary in tone and narrative arc.  It is never just one kind of programme, and is instead a glorious mishmash. Which is in and of itself, very Steampunk.

But what is the Steampunk Aesthetic and why do I think Doctor Who is one of the best examples of Steampunk on television? Pithily called “yesterday’s future, today!”, Steampunk art (literature, music, visual, textile, etc) envisions a future that has collapsed onto a re-imagined Victorian past, or an alternate world where the Victorian era technology and society has held on.  Sometimes these contain alternate history, or “path not taken” moments: Revisionist, or Fictionalized history.  Steampunk allows for technology and historical events to be shuffled together and bent like a deck of playing cards.

Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are oftimes cited when discussing early Steampunk (which is inaccurate, as they are of the era, not writing about it nostalgically), but a quick way to get a grasp on Steampunk is to think of three films: Wild Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Suckerpunch. (Leaving aside the quality of said films). Current popular Steampunk novels include The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfield, the Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest, and The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress.

Steampunk doesn’t really have any hard and fast rules (hence my argument that it is not a genre), but Dr. Mike “The Steampunk Scholar” Perschon posits that to be Steampunk, an art piece must include:  technofantasy (or technology that requires an element of the impossible to function), neo-Victorianism (a celebration of the Victorian era, and Empire, though this time with an awareness of the problematics of the era), and Retrofuturism (the way the past viewed the future, or more important in Steampunk, how we think the past viewed the future.)  These three features, in any combination and amount, is what Perschon says “constitutes the Steampunk aesthetic … Steampunk is the glass – and while some might not like the analogue of an empty vessel for their ostensible subculture or lifestyle, keep in mind that you can put whatever you like in that glass – art, film, or lifestyle – and Steampunk it.”

And Doctor Who does this inexplicably well.

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To read the rest, order your copy of issue 168 of Enlightenment here.

 

JM FreyGadgets, Goggles, and The Doctor
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