February 27, 2009

I recently discovered that I’m a fan of steampunk. I had heard of the term but I’d never used the word to reference the type of movies and stories that I like.

That’s because I didn’t know it applied to those stories and movies. But I’ve since discovered that many of my favorite movies could be considered steampunk.

What is steampunk? Wikipedia defines it as “a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date.”

So, if you use that definition, a television show like The Wild Wild West would be considered something like steam punk. It’s set during the 19th century and features two Secret Service agents, James West and Artemus Gordon. It kind of like James Bond meets the Old West meets sci-fi. I loved that show!

And there’s quite a number of movies that could be considered steampunk: Time After Time, which features H.G. Wells using his time machine to track Jack the Ripper who has escaped into the 20th century, pretty much any movie based on H.G. Wells or Jules Verne’s novels, and anime such as Steamboy or Castle in the Sky.

And, of course, since steampunk is a literary genre there are a host of books that are considered steampunk, which includes works written by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson

UPDATE: I’d forgotten to mention this book. Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson. This is one of those novels that I had not thought of as steampunk but seems to fit the bill. And it’s one which, once I’d started reading it, I could not put it down.

In 1912, Europe and parts of Africa and Asia disappear and are replaced with an alien Earth in which animals and plants have followed a different pattern of evolution. Called “The Miracle” this event transforms the lives everyone and the history of the world.

If you have any favorite books, movies or television that would be considered steampunk I’d love to hear what they are.

So, if you find yourself suddenly wanting to write a story featuring corsets and airships (as I have!), you have just been bitten by the steampunk bug.


100 Billion Earth-Type Worlds

February 25, 2009

Below is a link to a great article at CNN about the possibility of 100 billion earth-type worlds in the galaxy.

That’s galaxy, not universe. Extrapolate from 100 billion in our galaxy to encompass the billions of galaxies in the universe and the number is mind-blowing!

Which means there could be thousands of intelligent civilizations in the galaxy. Not Klingons or Vulcans or Cylons, but something beyond what our imaginations could possibly conceive.

How exciting is that! The possibility that we truly are not alone in the universe. Sci-fi nerd that I am news like this just sets my geeky heart a flutter. *grin*

Galaxy May Be Full of “Earths

A Regency Zombie?

February 24, 2009

Below is a link to a very interesting article regarding Jane Austen and the various incarnations of her novel that are being published. One is titled “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, which begins with “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

I was a Regency Zombie

I’m probably going to be drawn and quartered, tarred and feathered and boiled in oil for saying this but I’ve tried several times to read “Pride and Prejudice” but I can never get past the first chapter. I’ve seen all the movie versions of the book and enjoyed them but reading the book? Nope, I just couldn’t do it.

I did read “Emma” for a graduate course I took and I actually liked that book. But that was quite some time ago.

Maybe having a couple of zombies shuffling around Regency England might not be such a bad idea.

The Oscars

February 23, 2009

I watched The Oscars the other night. Like I do every year. I love movies. And Hugh Jackman was hosting! But, unlike past years, I’d only seen two movies that had been nominated for some kind of Oscar: Wall-E, The Dark Knight and Benjamin Button.

What I found the most disappointing, however, was that when they announced the nominees for Best Actor, Actress and Supporting Actor and Actress they didn’t show any clips! I find that to be the part of the Oscar ceremony I like the most. Sometimes I’ve been so impressed with a clip that I go and see the movie in the theater.

This year, however, they had past Oscar winners introduce the nominees. I have to say it was quite impressive seeing such a cornucopia of acting talent on the stage at one time, but I really missed seeing those clips.

I’d heard so much about Viola Davis’ performance in Doubt that I was really looking forward to her clip.

So, next year, I hope they go back to the clips. Being stroked by the likes of Sophia Loren or Anthony Hopkins must have been way cool for the nominees but it didn’t do much for moi.

And can someone please tell me why Natalie Portman is so gosh-darned beautiful! Just doesn’t seem fair. *grin*

I was quite touched by Heath Ledger’s family acceptance of his Oscar. You could have heard a pin drop in that place. It certainly brought a tear to my eye.

I’m busy writing, having just submitted a vampire erotica short story today and I’m currently working on a shapeshifter erotica and will be starting a new vampire story.

I know, I know but there’s been a lot of calls of late for vampire stories. And I’ve got no qualms about writing them. I love vampires!



February 18, 2009

Wikipedia defines serendipity as “the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely.”

According to the Wikipedia entry it’s also one of the top ten hardest words to translate.

I’m writing a short story set in 18th century Revolutionary France and it’s been serendipitous how articles, books and movies I’ve needed for my research have just magically appeard. Well, perhaps, not magically but certainly conveniently.

I know, for example, that basing one’s research on historical movies is usually a not-so-good idea because, as we know, historical movies are usually not historically accurate.

However, there’s nothing like watching a movie set in a time you’re writing about (if it’s a movie with a high production value, of course) to at least see what people wore, what houses they lived in, how they traveled, etc.

I picked up a DVD from the library of the 1938 version of Marie Antoinette starring Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power. It’s a shame the movie was in black and white. The costumes were gorgeous! As was a very young Tyrone Power.

However, last night, as I was unable to sleep due to an earache, I happened to catch The Affair of the Necklace , which came out in 2000 and starred Hillary Swank, Adrian Body and Simon Baker, and it just so happened to be about Marie Antoinette and the infamous Affair of the Diamond Necklance. That movie was in color but the costumes were nowhere near as gorgeous as the 1938 movie.

But my point is that it was rather serendipitous, or at least I thought so, that The Affair of the Necklace just happened to be on a mere hours after I had watched Marie Antoinette.

Or maybe it was just coincidence. I wonder? Is serendipity just a fancy way of saying coincidence?

Using the Tarot to Create Characters

February 15, 2009

Using the Tarot to Create Characters

More than likely many of you are familiar with the Tarot. Either you’ve heard about them, read them, had a reading done for you or seen them used in any number of movies or television shows, usually to warn some hapless character of their impending doom.

For those of you who, by chance, have not heard of the Tarot, it is a divination system that typically uses 78 cards which are broken up into two groups, the Major and the Minor Arcana.

Depending upon whom you read (and there are no lack of books on the Tarot out there), the Tarot was invented by the Egyptians, or the Gypsies or possibly even bequeathed to mankind by wise and benevolent aliens from out of space.

However, historically speaking the Tarot has been around for centuries. It wasn’t, however, until the 1960s that the Tarot began to spark the interests of people outside esoteric disciplines and since then the Tarot has exploded into the cultural landscape.

The purpose of this post, however, is not to talk about the origins of the Tarot but how you can use it to create characters.

Character creation is one of those topics that never fails to spark intense conversation among writers. Some writers prefer to learn about their characters as they write. Others must create entire dossiers and family trees for their characters. Some writers insist that their characters often take over their stories while others prefer to keep tight control over their creations.

Some characters spring full-blown from writers’ imagination like Athena from Zeus’ head, while others are created, almost in a Frankenstein like fashion, cobbled from bits and pieces of a writer’s experiences, dreams and, in some cases, nightmares.

The Tarot is just one of dozens of tools that the writer can use to create characters. I would suggest that if you are not familiar with the Tarot you pick up an introductory book on it before attempting to make use of it as a tool for character creation. I did a workshop last year on using the Tarot for writing and found that it was difficult for people who were not familiar with the basics of the Tarot to truly see what use it could be for them.

If you are somewhat familiar with the Tarot, I hope these suggestions will prove useful to you in your writing. So, here are some of the ways that I use the Tarot in creating characters.

Doing a Reading

If you are familiar enough with the Tarot that you are able to read the cards, how about doing a reading for your characters? It’s similar to the technique one uses to interview characters. In this case, instead of asking your character questions, they are asking you questions and you answer them by reading the cards for them. This technique can prove helpful in working through a knot in your plot or, perhaps, if you’re blocked for some reason and need to work your way through it.

You can let yourself imagine what kind of questions your character would ask a tarot reader, why would they go see one, and what would be their reaction to the reading. Maybe one of your characters thinks it’s all nonsense and foolish superstition. Perhaps another can’t start her day or make a major decision without consulting the Tarot.

Once you’ve laid out the cards, look at what the cards have to show you about your character. You might discover hidden aspects to their personalities, fears or desires that you did not know they even had.

As I like to tell people, the Tarot is one of the best brainstorming tools around. For one thing the images of the card can not help but to spark your imagination. There are so many cards available, with subject matter ranging from baseball to vampires, that you can not help to find a deck that will speak personally to you.

Depending upon the layout you choose for the reading (and there are as many layouts as there are Tarot decks) you might also be able to brainstorm possible twists and turns for your plots.

Once you’ve completed the reading, you can save it in your files. Or, if it’s served its purpose, forget about. It might, however, prove useful to do additional readings during the course of the writing process.

The ideal is to find what works best for you.

Using the Court Cards for Character Creation

As I mentioned earlier, the Tarot deck is made up of two parts: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana usually deals with, as it says, major events in one’s life: birth, death, love, fame, etc.

The Minor Arcana—which is comprised of four suits (usually called Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles) of 10 cards and four cards called the Court Cards—typically deals with the day to day aspects of living.

The most well-known names for the Court Cards are King, Queen, Knight and Page. However, depending upon the deck you own these names may be different. Each of these four court cards represent the human aspect of a particular suit. Also, many readers use a court card to represent the person they are reading for, who is usually called the Querent.

If you are familiar with Carl Jung’s personality typology, you will discover that the four suits of the Tarot coincide with what Jung called the four functions, which are the ways we typically deal with the world.

First, there is the how we gather information about the world. According to Jung, people either make use of sensation or intuition. That is not to say that we only use one or the other exclusively but that we typically use one over the other.

Sensing, which correlates with the suit of Pentacles, means that we get information primarily through our senses. If we can see it, touch it, taste it, feel it, then it has reality and it has value.

Intuition, which the Wands typically represent, works outside and beyond the sensory perceptions of sight, touch, hearing, etc.

Once we’ve gathered information about the world, we need to make judgments as to the value of that information. That is where the functions of thinking and feeling come in.

Thinking, which is typically associated with the suit of Swords, means that we evaluate the information we gathered by means of logic and reason.

Feeling, which the Cups usually symbolize, involves our emotional responses about the information we’ve received about the world.

Therefore, the Court Cards of each suit can be thought of as psychological manifestations of each of the suits. The King of Swords, for example, can be seen as either a man or a more advanced stage of the Thinking function.

So you could imagine someone like Mr. Spock being a typical King of Swords type. The Page of Swords, on the other hand, could either be a child or perhaps a less advanced stage of the Thinking function.

There are tarot books available that focus just on the Court Cards and offer more detailed descriptions of each. You can therefore use the Court Cards the same way you might make use of astrology or the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs personality systems.

For example, you might decide to write a story where a Queen of Swords type, a woman who’s all logic and thinking meets a King of Cups, who is all imagination and feeling. Or whatever tickles your fancy. You’re only limited by, yep, you guessed it, your own imagination.

Again, there is no one right way to decipher or use the Tarot cards. There are plenty of books out there that can tell you all the meanings of all the cards. However, once you have your own deck you will find that working with them on your own will prove the most beneficial to you.

I would suggest that if you really are interested in using the Tarot, not only for character creation, but for all aspects of fiction writing, from plotting to world building, check out the following links.

They are excellent resources to start with, but I can assure you that once you start down the path of the Tarot, you will find that not only are there many branches, but the road goes on forever.

Aeclectic Tarot: A great resource for finding Tarot decks and learning about the Tarot

Learning the Tarot: A on-line course for learning the Tarot. The course is free or you can purchase the book instead.

Tarot for Writers: The website for Corrine Kenner, who has just published a book called, appropriately enough, Tarot for Writers

Carl Jung’s Personality Theory Information about Jung’s theories on personality.

And On It Goes

February 14, 2009

It’s always interesting when I’m deep into a writing project. Especially when I’m working on two writing projects at a time.

Having to keep characters, scenes, plots and such straight. Moving from one character’s mind and point of view to another. And in this case, since one story is a historical and the other contemporary, having to move back and forth in time.

Being a writer, I have discovered, is like having multiple personalities. In this case, however, it’s not a disorder but what’s required in order to write fiction.

Though I daresay that writing, in some cases, could be considered a form of mental disease in that it sometimes leads to obsession-compulsive behavior, muttering to oneself and being fascinated by things that most people don’t even think about, much less pay any attention to.