Nostalgia, Steampunk writing and saving the past

I’m nostalgic, but I don’t glorify the past.

A friend of mine lost his house and almost everything he had in the Thomas fire in Ventura, CA. That got me to doing a photo inventory of every thing I own. And I mean everything including the box of tooth picks in the kitchen drawer.

Part of this inventory is scanning old photographs. It’s a slow process to scan in shoe box after shoe box of photos. I have big feet. I haven’t worn size 13 shoes since I was in junior high and my feet have only gotten bigger. But at least I don’t have to wear a Nike NBA player size 19 shoe. But with the photos scanned and saved to a thumb drive that is stored in a plastic bag inside a metal box and in a safe place I will have the photos come fire or flood.

When I scan these old photos in I can’t help think back about how almost everything I knew is gone or has changed so much as it is almost unrecognizable.

I had a reason to visit the city near the old reservation I grew up on, so I took a quick trip to visit the grade school I went to as a little kid. It wasn’t the same. Almost all the old building were gone or over shadowed by new buildings. It’s good to see a poor school get new building and to have expanded for more room. But I miss the old tree that sat in the corner of the school where we had Easter Egg hunts, or sat under for some special classes. The school was not air conditioned back then and it was cool under that tree. You can’t have a tree on school grounds now, some kid will climb it and fall and hurt himself.

Building don’t make a school. I remember when I was very young and the cook for the school retired. The food quality went way down. She cooked like my mother cooked. When she retired the food became plain simple food, not a meal. For some of the kids in the school that was the best meal of the day. My mother got her recipe for salmon patties from the cook. At school when we had salmon patties if you found the bone in your patty you got a quarter. That was a lot of money back then (two and half comic books).

The freeway bypasses the little town, I grew up outside of, now and the town is fading away. There isn’t a gas station in the town any more. Gasoline is so much cheaper just across the state line a quarter of a mile away.

There is still a remnant of the business my father built from the ground up, but it is fading away too.

Do I think the past was better than now. No. As my cardiologist told me recently. Twenty or thirty year ago, she used to spend over half her time in the hospital trying to save the lives of people that were having heart attacks. She wasn’t able to save many. It hurt her. Now she can try and stop people from having a heart attack in the first place and if they have one there is a good chance she can save them. I’m alive today because of those changes.

Still, I don’t want to lose those memories preserved by those old pictures. Even the simple things like a couple of old black and white pictures from high school.

The past wasn’t so good, but like today we can, step by step; difficult steps, make it better. We can make the whole world better. But it will take work.

Stay strong, write on, and work for a better world.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Filling in story plot holes in a Steampunk book

My critique partner pointed out a plot hole that my Beta Reader found and I haven’t fixed yet. That’s not a good way to write a Steampunk book.

She also found another plot hole I missed.

It is not easy to fix plot holes. It takes work and time. I did not come up with the ideas needed to fix these holes in an hour or a day. It took a couple of weeks.

I did not sit around for weeks waiting for ideas to come to me, nor did I work writing and rewriting everything I could trying to fix the plot holes. I had plenty of other edits I needed to do to the book, plus I was working on the next book.

What I did do was; step one. Define what type or style of idea I needed.  The heroine of the story needs to find or be given some information that she doesn’t realizes what it means till the end of the book but is of vital importance. The villain, the greatest assassin on the Continent, is trying to blow up Castle Windsor. But she is doing it not to kill Queen Victoria, but to kill emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II (OK I know that Kaiser and emperor mean about the same thing but how else am I suppose to say it when I am trying to emphasize that an emperor out ranks a queen). This would upset Queen Victoria greatly, she doesn’t play second violin to anyone, even an emperor. Besides most people who tried to kill her used a hand gun. Anna, my villain, the Lithuanian widow maker, is going to use tons of gun powder not just one barrel of it like Guy Fox.

Step two, know the limits of the idea. My heroine has her limitations. She is a spy in training. There is no school for spies. Spies are the scum of society. She doesn’t have year of experience like James Bond, and is not a genius like Sherlock Homes. I have too many characters in the book to have a new one pop up and tell her the Kaiser is coming.

Step three, make a list of ideas, mash up ideas, kick around ideas. Follow the thread of an idea and see how the fallout of something happening would impact the heroine.What would happen if the Kaiser was coming for a visit? The Kaiser was the grandson of Queen Victoria. He did visit England often even thought he hated the English. What would be the normal things a big shot would do?

He would send scouts to make sure things were acceptable for his arrival. He would send a cook. The rick can afford to have a home cooked meal on the road. Back in the late 1890s people would visit for months at a time. The problem is why and how would the heroine meet the foreign cook. Would the foreign cook even speak English, he’s Prussian? Introducing the cook adds another character to an already crowded story.

Step four, what would make the idea plausible? Using real people and facts, helps a lot. I went and looked up who cooked for the Kaiser. Did the Kaiser have food taster? Found information on what Prussian’s eat at the time of my story, but nothing on the cook for the Kaiser.

I went over the part of the story where the heroine breaks into Castle Windsor, gets caught and escapes looking for a place where she could meet the cook. There’s not any room for her to meet the cook, she’s trying to escape not visit. She doesn’t stay long enough for dinner. Well she does but she is locked up and not fed during her stay. I have a bad crutch of having the characters eat a meal together and exchange information at the meal. A bad case of telling.

The heroine escapes in the back of a milk truck with the help of a couple of prostitutes. What are prostitutes doing in Castle Windsor? You’re going to have to buy the book to find out. The driver of the milk truck tosses an empty milk can into the back of the truck. He sees them in the back and locks them in the truck and drives off with them for his own nefarious purposes.

How can I change this to show (show is the key) the heroine getting information that the Kaiser is coming? If she couldn’t meet the cook, then what if she saw some of the food that was being sent for the Kaiser’s visit. What if instead of a empty 5 gallon milk can the driver tossed in two boxes of food marked for the Kaiser? What if the cook was selling the food as a side hustle, he always made sure he had too much food just in case the Kaiser decided to stay longer than planned so he would have food to spare and sell? Everyone had a side hustle back then. We call it embezzling, they called it saving for retirement.

How would the heroine know the food was for the Kaiser? Well big shots like to stamp their name on everything so the boxes would have the Kaiser’s stamp on them to warn people not to mess with the boxes.

That fills in the plot hole, now for some embellishment. What if the crazy lady prostitute was the daughter of a minister for the Bismark of Prussia (she doesn’t like the Kaiser, he caused her father to live in semi-permanent exiled)? I needed someone who could read the Prussian wording on the boxes. This also fills in some back story of the prostitutes. Two birds with one stone, or box of food.

So I have filled that plot hole. Steam rolled it flat and painted a stripe down the middle of it. Now on to the next plot hole.

Notice there are a lot of “what ifs” above. There are many more what ifs that I tried and threw them out when they didn’t work.

This is work, but it does work.

Stay strong, write on, and try a few “what ifs,” but know what you’re looking for.

Professor Hyram Voltage

What are you willing to give up to write a Steampunk book?

Time; you can’t buy it, you can only measure it, use it, or waste it.

You can write a Steampunk book. You can write a good science fiction book. But it’s going to take time. Lots and lots of time.

You can crave out time to write. It’s not easy. The experts say to give up time wasters. Give up endless TV binge watching. Give up spending so much time with friends.

That’s like telling a dieter to give up chocolate, give up things that taste good, give up food they’ve eaten all their lives. Have you ever met a person that went cold turkey on rice cakes and water for two weeks. That’s a person you don’t want to get within twenty feet of.

Some writers tell you to write whenever you can, in five to ten minute slots. Still other advocate writing in two hour or longer cycles. The second hour is where you fall into the groove. You only have to do that three or so times a week to get a book out in a couple of months.

What to do. Do both. You think this is hard, you’re right, but so is writing a book. It’s your time, no one can give you time, but anyone can take it away from you. Taking time from you makes some people feel superior, domineering. Down with the time bullies.

Do you remember the plot line for your favorite TV show that aired four weeks ago. If it’s not that interesting maybe that’s the show to give up. Along with the one after it that you watch just to fill time till your next favorite show.

You say you can’t give up on your kids. Then don’t. But remember, kids need alone time to. When you’re with your kids turn off the TV and interact with them. That’ll scare them. Read to your kids. If they’re older talk to them about the books they have read. They have to read books for school. Some of the best memories I have is my mother reading books to me. We didn’t have many books. There wasn’t a book store or library in the little village (less than 80 people) that was a quarter mile away form where I grew up. The little food store in the village did have a comic book rack, but it would be a couple of months between times my father would buy us a comic book. Between us kid we would read the comic book till it was in shreds. Buy your kids comic books and read them to your children.

Don’t go to hang out with someone. Go to interact with them. Make every second count.

Take a note book with you at all times. Have a quite second standing in line or waiting, then write in the note book. No one will notice, they’re all looking at their cell phones. At worst write in your cell phone. You’ll look like everyone else.

Live life to the fullest, do things, write.

Stay strong, write on, and write.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Character Arc in Steampunk

Does your character need a character arc?

Think about it. Did Sherlock Holmes change after each investigation? No, he was and always will be Sherlock Holmes.

Did Bilbo Baggins change at the end of the Hobbit? No, when he got home he wanted to be a hobbit. He did not want to go adventuring again. He did not want to leave his hobbit hole.

If you’re writing a trilogy do you have to have the character go through a major character arc by the end of each volume. No, if you did a person reading volume two and going back and reading volume one may not like volume one because the character she loved in volume two is not the character with the same name in volume one.

How many life altering can a person go through and not go crazy? Think about Sue Garfton and the 26 volumes she wrote.

Think about yourself. When you learned to count, did you become a different person? Counting is one of the greatest inventions of the human race. How about when you learned to multiply. How many animals can multiply? Think about it. You are having a dozen friends over so you go and get two six-packs or four six-packs if your smart. But, did you change when you learned one of the greatest things that separates mankind from animals?

I don’t think you became a threat to the world (future dictator or demigod) when you conquered long division. Sure you learned something important, but it had little impact on your personality. Some people promptly forgot all they every knew about multiplication and division as soon as they could and sank back to being an animal.

No one remembers when multiplication or division was discovered. Think how that changed the world. No one remembers when we went from Roman numerals to Arabic numerals. But those things changed the world far more than Julius Caesar. Just try and do the calculus in Roman numerals.

If a person loses a loved one. She could change or maybe not. She might be sadder or she might turn around and find a new husband. Is she really different. Does she join a new church because she lost someone? Or would they struggle on and over come? Would your major character implode if they had a major lost in their life. I’ve seen all of this happen, but would I be interested in reading about a wimp that gets knocked down by things I’ve been through? Would you?

So plan your next book, even if it is a stand alone, to be a serial. It’s good business practice. You like the character, and your readers like the character, you have a built-in audience to fall back on. Are you going to change the character so much that if the reader reads the second then goes back and reads the first book she won’t  recognized or like (as in you lost a reader of your future books) the character?

Set your next series as 30 volume story. Make it James Bond in the Steampunk universe. “The names Blonde.” She ratchets the hammer back on the dainty, deadly gun. “Mary Blonde.”

Stay strong, write on, and think about how you have changed after major life altering events.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Writing a Steampunk Book in the Dark

It’s Thursday. The wind is off the ocean and blows into the garage where I am working. A cold, bitter wind. I had a deadline due on Friday for a electronic project. I was pushing it. I had been pushing it for days and things kept coming up to delay the project. At 3:40 the shop light over the work bench went out. I glanced over my shoulder and the clip on light hanging form the rafters was still shining. I didn’t have time to run down to the store to buy a new tube for the shop light.

I hit the switch on the drill press. It groaned, a bad ugly groan. I shut it off fast. I took a voltage meter and checked the power coming out of the wall socket. There was only 57 volts when it should be 120 to 125 volts. Way too low is an understatement. The LED light bulb in the clip-on light would run on that low of a voltage. I didn’t know the LED bulbs would run on that low a voltage. Looking closely I noticed that the LED bulb was dimmer than it should be. The fluorescence shop light would not run on that low a voltage. Note to self, need more LED light bulbs.

I was going to miss the deadline, I was cold, hungry, and discouraged.

I went inside and started writing. The laptop showed it’s battery was low. I can’t win. I went to call a friend and the cell phone battery was low, almost discharged.

I’ve got flashlights. I also have a brand new pack of cheap batteries from Harbor fright. They may not be the best batteries or last the longest, but they are so cheap I don’t mine going through them fast.

I plugged the laptop in anyway. It started charging. I plugged the cell phone in and it started charging. The miracle of modern electronics.

Around 5:00 PM the power company called on the phone to tell me the power was out. No s!@#. The robot voice went on to say the power went out at 1:30 and was expected to be back on at 6:30. That did not make me happy. The power went out at 3:40. So if they were 2 hours off on the power out time they were going to be off on the power back on time. Hours and hours off on the power back on time.

It’s cold in the house with the heater off, so I went to a restaurant in the another town and got dinner. It got cold inside the restaurant, and I was wearing a jacket. I won’t be eating there for a while.

Back at the house I took a folding chair into the kitchen. Lit a burner on the gas stove with a match (I had just bought a new box of matches a week before). With the laptop on my knees and light from a half lit ceiling LED bulb (aided by the light from a flashlight) I typed away.

It’s not fun writing while sitting on a cold metal folding chair. The burner on the stove took some of the chill off. Next time, I’m going to dig out the TV tray to sit the computer on. I was so discouraged, tired, and upset that I was going to miss a deadline that I didn’t think of it at the time.

I have a flashlight that takes six AA batteries and give off a wide beam of light. Good for reading or easing the eye strain while typing on the computer. I got another flashlight after the last big power outage. It’s a small LED flashlight that takes two AA batteries and on its second setting it will last 6 to 12 hours on a set of batteries.

I have heard good things about the NEBO WORKBRITE PRO light. It’s an LED light that comes with an adaptor to plug into the wall, but it runs off six AA batteries. It can run off three AA batteries in a pinch. The light is rated for 7.5 hours on high and 16 hours on the low setting. Available at I’m going to get one soon.

I always change the batteries in my flashlights when we shift to daylight savings time, whether I have used the flashlight or not.

You would think, as a steampunk writer, I would write by candlelight. Even with three candles it’s not easy to write by candlelight. It’s definitely not romantic, the light flickers and never goes where you want it to, and you get smoke stains on your computer screen. Besides, I could set the place on fire with candles all over the place.

Power returned at 2:30 AM the next morning. I got some writing done, but it wasn’t easy.

Stay strong, write on, and buy batteries for your flashlight.
Professor Hyram Voltage

Steampunk Writing and Thumb Drive Blues

It happened again. A friend had a thumb drive die. Of course it contained the only copy of a file that he needed.

Thumb drives are good, useful, even necessary, but they will fail just like hard drives.

Always back up your files on two or more thumb drives. And keep the drives away from the computer and each other. Back ups won’t do you any good if the thief that steals your computer or the fire that destroys your computer also get your thumb drives and your back up flash/hard drives.

In the race to escape a disaster such as the recent Thomas fire you may not have the time to take your computer or be able to get to your house to save your computer or backup drives. Disasters happen fast.

If you have stuff stored on the cloud don’t get cocky. Cloud services have closed down and all the data on them was lost. A good hacker may one day find a way to hack AWS, evernote or one (or all) of the big cloud services.

Don’t store your only copy of your book, article, photos, etc. on one cloud service, on one hard drive, on one thumb drive. It’s your book, your life’s work, protect it, make several copies on several different medias, and store the media, the hard drive, thumb drive, even floppy, in several different places.

Big thumb drives are cheap. Keep one on you person. Keep another some place other than your house. Jerry Pournelle used to store back ups of his writing in a safe deposit box. A garden shed would do or even burying it in a flower pot by the back door if you have no place else.

Whatever you do; backup and then backup some more.

Bad things happen to data. Be prepared.

Stay strong, write on, and back it up.
Professor Hyram Voltage.

Steampunk Mythology and the Black in Blacksmith

A smith is a person that makes things using a hammer and fire. A silver smith takes a lump of silver and using a hammer, and heating the lump when it needs softening, to make things out of silver.

A silver worker is all the others that make things out of silver like jewelers, silver-caster or foundry men.

A silver smith will make you a spoon by hammering a lump of silver into the shape of the spoon, Then he will have his apprentice polish it up.

A silver worker will cast you a spoon and have his apprentice polish it up for you.

Both can engrave the work, chase the work, incise the work.

A Blacksmith is something special. Maybe you have heard about the effect of cold iron against magic and magical beings.

Why do they call them Blacksmiths? It’s not because of the soot, or the black scale that flakes of the surface of heated iron. They’re called Blacksmiths because if you take an piece of ancient iron, often called wrought or puddled iron, and bend it the metal will come apart in layers, or sheets. You’ll ruin it if you bend it cold. It takes experience and knowledge gained from generations of smiths, to know how much to heat the iron before you can bend it. You can ruin wrought iron if you heat it too hot. Red-short is the condition where you heat a piece of metal to red hot and bend or hammer it and it crumbles or breaks. A good smith can tell or determine if a piece of iron will red-short. It will take years for someone to figure this out by trail and error. Just watching a Blacksmith will not clue you into the secrets of work iron.

You can still find on ebay the ends of wrought iron bars that have been forged into the head of a dragon. The makers of the iron did this to show that the iron was malleable and not prone to red-short.

Steel can be made from wrought iron by hammering the carbon and impurities out of the iron. Over half (often three quarters or more) of the iron you start with will be wasted as scale and rust by the time the iron becomes steel.

Iron (and steel) can be welded by heating it to less than its melting temperature and hammering two pieces together. The temperature has to be just right, not too hot or too cold. The smith can not hit the metal too hard or the pieces will spring apart even if they were partially welded. The Blacksmith will also use a mixture of sand, seashells, leaves, borax, and other things to aid the welding of the metal.

A Blacksmith uses fire. Fire that is often made with coal that has lots of sulfur (brimstone) in it. He works in the shade so he can see the color of the heating metal so he knows when it is ready to be bent or welded. He uses concoctions to make the iron weld together. Not just anyone can bend wrought iron like you can modern steel. You have to know the right temperature, the right way to make a fire, how hard to hit the hot metal.

So a Blacksmith uses brimstone, works in the dark not in sunlight, uses potions and knows things that aren’t common knowledge. He works the Black arts. He’s a magic maker that impresses his will on iron to make it do what he wants it to. He is a master of the Black arts, he is a Blacksmith.

Stay strong, write on, and go watch a good Blacksmith, there’s more going on than you can see.
Professor Hyram Voltage

How to solve problems the Steampunk way

I apologize for the last couple of post being late. My main computer died. Hard. I got the new blue screen of death with the frowny face. The computer tech had to wipe the computer and re-install windows.

Decades of work has to be re-installed. I did not lose much except playlists for music and the bookmarks in the browser. The computer died in the middle of a back up. I keep several back ups. It just takes time to re-install all the programs. Thank goodness I had a recent copy of the password vault data base.

How did someone in the Steampunk era solve problems. You may joke that they hit it with a hammer.

Having done some blacksmithing it’s not that easy. There are many different type of hammers. Some with very special uses that an ordinary straight peen hammer will not do well. Think of trying to make a shoe with a sledge hammer.

Also a blacksmith does not hit the metal he is working on as hard as he can. What he is trying to do determines how hard he has to hit the work. If you hit it too hard you can undo a weld you are trying to make, destroy a bend you are making in a piece.

Before a blacksmith hits the work he heats the work to the right temperature. It looks so easy, but the old style black smith shop had a shade roof with sides where the boards had gaps between them. The boards provided shade while the gaps let air in to cool the the smith, and the door was on the shady side of the building and was always left open. That is why I never believed in a dwarf smith working in a cave. It would get so hot he couldn’t work and the coal smoke would choke him. The same goes for an elven smith working out in an open glade.

Besides the fire hazard with the sparks the elven smith needs the shade to see the slight changes in the temperature as shown by the change in color of the metal. Red hot glow for bending wrought iron, straw yellow for working a steel sword blade, white hot for forge welding. The straw yellow is the hardest one. There are a thousand shades of straw yellow, but only one shade will work best for that piece of metal.

That’s why a blacksmith never worried about a farmer watching him work. He knew that the farmer would go back to his farm and take the biggest hammer he had and beat the piece he was trying to fix as hard as he could and turn the piece into a managed mess that the blacksmith would have to repair for a higher price.

But every now and then I want to treat this computer like an Orc and take my biggest hammer and beat the living c@#! out of it.

Stay strong, write on, and hammer it. Professor Hyram Voltage

Steampunk Inventors

I’ve read too many stories lately about steampunk inventors that have no life, social or otherwise, are independently wealthy, and live in a vacuum (or on an island in the middle of the ocean).

An inventor does not have the time to mine, smelt, cast and then form his own copper wire for his high speed telegraph invention or forge the steel plate for his improved hyper-pressure steam boiler invention. There were people that made the wire and steel and other things and tools for a living. If he did make his own wire he would probably end up in the wire making business and all his inventions would be about making wire, better and faster.

Inventors like writers need day jobs. Thomas Edison has a series of day jobs till he started earning enough from some telegraph patents that he could establish his own lab and do nothing but invent.

Inventors did not work in the dark. The Wright brothers, when they decided to build an airplane they ordered every book they could on the subject. That included tables of information from Lilienthal. After a glider they built did not have the lift the tables said it should, the Wright brothers did some experiments and found that the century old value for the Smeaton coefficient was to high. This was one of the major advances made by the Wright brother. They built interments and did experiments, they challenged the excepted theories. Using a new value they determined from their experiments including the use of a home built wind tunnel they designed a new wing that worked better. Others had figured out that the value was wrong, but you had to look closely at their data to figure it out. Even back then, inventors wrote up their results and talked to each other.

The Wright brothers were not wealthy. They owned and ran a bicycle shop. They hand built bicycles. Sometimes out of wood. Would your steam punk inventor stoop to using wood to build one of his creations? The Wright brothers earned an income, were part of the community. They were secretive, worried someone would steal their inventions, but they were not hermits.

So come with me and strike a blow to the cliché of the hermit inventors with the magical supply of raw and processed materials and inexhaustible supply of spare parts. Take a look at real inventors and make your inventor a part, a participant of your steampunk society.

Stay strong, write on, and give your characters a life.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Year full of Mondays

On new year’s day there was a comic that said that it was the first of 52 Mondays. Something set off an alarm in the back of my mind. I went to the calendar and counted. Yes, there are 53 Mondays this year.

The good news is that two of those Mondays are holidays, the first Monday is New Years Day and the last Monday is New Years Eve, so there are only 50 working Mondays this year.

So cheer up.

Now if your retired and self employed every day is a Monday.

Stay strong, write on, is it Friday yet? Professor Hyram Voltage.