Friday, November 21, 2014

A Confirmed Bachelor: Writing Queer Characters

I make no secret that I publish what some would refer to as m/m romance. I don't actually consider that to be my genre, as the sexuality of my characters has always been secondary from the actual story. I happened to write about a detective, and he happened to be gay. He happened to have a love interest, but that was secondary to the murder mystery.

But, when one writes such books, inevitably one gets lumped to m/m romance, as the genre-makers don't seem to realize that gay characters do not a genre make.

That said, I have a lot of experience writing LGBTA characters, and everything book I write tends to have diversity of sexuality, race and culture because of this. Today though, we're going to focus on sexual diversity in steampunk fiction.

The estimable Gail Carriger gave us delightful creatures in The Parasol Protectorate like Lord Akeldama and Biffy...and Lyall, and lest we forget, Madame Lefoux. These characters were not ashamed of who they were, and no one really seemed to mind who they chose to be bedpartners or lifepartners with. After all, it would be rude to ask about such things.

As such, Charlotte's world went a similar fashion without any prompting really. You are introduced to Lord Niall Rathbone, whose students whisper about being a confirmed bachelor in teasing tones, and who later does take on a partner of the same sex. Except, that's just a piece of who he is. Niall is also commanding, intelligent, tricky and petulant. Charlie is actually a bit afraid of him when they first meet, though the two do become friends later.

Niall is a complicated man, a cousin to the queen, commander of a regiment and head of the Lochlan Officers Academy. Him being gay doesn't change any of that.
As of yet, there have been few other queer characters introduced, as much of the story has been internally focused, and teenagers can be rather self-involved. As I continue to work on the series and Rule of Steel, I am making a conscious effort to include more characters. There's a certain lady with a bit of a pining for our leading lady--though she doesn't know it yet.

It isn't difficult to introduce this sort of thing. You don't even have to be explicit. A casual reference to someone's partner, or former partner is more than enough to establish interests. There's no reason to stop there either. There are few enough asexual characters in fiction, and if you're writing during the sexual oppression of the Victorian era, it's not as though a man or woman with no interest in sex or romance or both would be looked upon with any more oddity than any other spinster/bachelor of the time. We can't forget about bisexual characters either, and a case could be made for Alexia (The Parasol Protectorate) being bisexual, though she is firmly married when she realizes this about herself.

I've written one transgender character in my career, and tried to do so with as much sincerity and care as I could. If you're going to write a transgender character, you have to treat them as you would any other. Make them genuine and don't back down.

I think there are authors out there that shy away from this kind of diversity because they are afraid they'll do something wrong. But really, you should try anyway. Let people from the community you are writing about do a read-through, listen to them when they tell you what they thought worked and what didn't work.

The bottom line is, diversity makes a story richer. Don't be afraid to let your characters be themselves.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Knowing When to Break

When one is writing historical fiction of any kind, there comes a point in our research and decision making where it becomes time to deviate from history. The inspiration for this post came from a conversation with my roommate, who is currently writing a 1920's steampunk piece and was getting rather bogged down in inconsequential details.

At more than one point I looked at her and said, "You do know you're writing alt. history, right?"

I am an advocate of accuracy, good research and backing up your decisions with facts. That being said, when it comes to areas I am familiar with, I tend to write from that experience. Sometimes though, history does not cooperate with us. Either someone isn't where they need to be, something hasn't been invented yet--or you can't find any information to back up something you heard from your third-cousin six years ago.

In the roommate's case, it was difficulty confirming asthma medications in the 20's. She wasn't having any luck with specific ingredient lists, and was instead getting bogged down in the minutiae of it. She needed to move on from it, she needed to break from history. Especially given how much she had already changed historical events.

When you change historical timelines in anyway while creating your work, it's a bit ridiculous to assume that nothing else would change within that. So yes, perhaps that particular shade of yellow dye wasn't used until 1875 in our time, but whose to say some lab assistant is Sussex didn't spill something and accidentally create said dye four years earlier in your timeline?

When small details get in the way of the story, it's time to let go a little. I've been known to leave words out completely when I'm uncertain. Usually I'll plug in something like this (Insert X Here) so I can search for this missing area later during re-writes.

Don't be afraid to make changes. Don't be afraid to choose new paths. History, in this case, is your playground. Have fun with it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

PEN… PAPER… ACTION! : Guest Host Jack Tyler

            “Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head.  Shakespeare had perhaps 20 players.  I have 10 or so, and that’s a lot.  As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.”
~ Gore Vidal

            I don’t like this quote.  It makes me feel like my creativity is meaningless, and I’m just dressing up a paper doll when I write.  But after carefully considering it in the week since I found it, I have come to the conclusion that all I could honestly change would be to replace “Players” with “Archetypes.”  I have just begun the cataloguing of my repertory company, literally days ago, and haven’t yet identified everyone in the house, but in taking the initial nose-count, I find myself sorely lacking in women.  I can tentatively identify about five men, give or take one, but in all of my writing, published or not, I only find one woman.  Whether she comes in the guise of Colleen O’Reilly, the reformed Irish terrorist of Chameleon, Galela, sergeant of the King’s Guard from The Wellstone Chronicles, or Patience Hobbs, mischievous pilot of the Kestrel in Beyond the Rails, she is smart, strong, and capable.  She can be good or evil, young or “mature,” heroine or anti-heroine, but no matter who she is, she is always cut from the same piece of cloth.  I thought I might open my quest by trying to find out where she came from.

            Born in 1948, my childhood sat squarely in the 1950s, ages 2-12.  Divorce was a dirty word back then, and the Liberation of Women wasn’t yet a defiant gleam in your sister’s eye.  Women were still domestic servants who worked without pay, and while they had achieved the vote some years before my birth, they hadn’t achieved much else.  I saw how women were treated in my friends’ homes, their two-parent homes, and in my naiveté, I wondered at the luck of having a live-in housekeeper who did dishes, laundry, cooked meals, vacuumed, went to the store, dealt with repairmen and peddlers, while the man came home from work and sat down with the newspaper.  So this was manhood?

            See, men had disappeared from my home before I was three months old.  My entire upbringing was provided by three generations of women.  My mother was a professional gambler who was in and out of the house the whole time.  My first story about her is of her being 16 years old, pregnant with me, dealing an illegal card game in the back room of a waterfront bar and doing her own bouncing.  Grandma was Rosie the Riveter, one of the legion of women who took over the factories when the men went off to war, and one of the very few who was good enough to keep her job when the men came home again.  Great-grandma was a genuine lady of the Victorian Era, born into North Carolina society in 1888.  All the impressions I formed of women during the so-called “formative years” were provided by this formidable triumvirate.  There was no one in my life to teach me that women were inferior, sex objects, weak, second class, or anything with the slightest negative connotation.  So guess who wound up in my head.

            The women who take leading roles in my fiction don’t take no baloney.  They are uniformly smart and capable, can be physical when the situation requires it, and don’t feel like they’re doing anything special.  They stand up to impossible odds, impossible men, decks that are stacked against them, and the condescension and disrespect of their more “proper” sisters, and of men of every stripe, and they overcome.  They persevere and they’re the last one standing when the dust settles; they are all the same woman.

            How does a woman like this play in the Victorian world of steampunk?  How do you make her work?  She is a product of the twentieth century; she isn’t supposed to be here.  The problem is that if you write a woman who isn’t a troublemaker of some sort into a Victorian-era novel, she’s going to be all but invisible.  Her role is to keep her head down, her mouth shut, and support her husband or significant male acquaintance in whatever opinion he gives her.  As an author, you aren’t going to get much mileage out of a character like that.  So, what’s a steampunk to do?  Let’s look at how four authors I have recently encountered have dealt with it.

            Certainly the most realistic female lead of the group is T.E. MacArthur’s Dr. Leticia Gantry of The Volcano Lady.  Brilliantly written, Dr. Gantry is a female volcanologist who, her interactions with Captain Nemo and Robur of the Albatross aside, is a lady in a man’s field who is denied every privilege of tenure, field work, and serious consideration that any man in her field takes for granted, and is treated as anything from a nuisance to freak whenever she tries to assert herself.  This makes for a wonderful character, as she has to struggle against not only villains and forces of nature, but the very fabric of the society she lives in.  In many ways, this is the boldest of the lot, as MacArthur stands squarely up to the issue, and deals with it as it is.


  In my own Beyond the Rails, Patience Hobbs, the playful,
sometimes rowdy airship pilot of the Kenyan frontier, doesn’t deal with the problem (nor does her author); she leaves it behind.  Cousin of an exceedingly wealthy family, she is taken in when her father dies performing his job in one of the family’s enterprises.  Raised as an aristocrat, sent to finishing school, she leaves England when she realizes what will be expected of her as a “lady,” and flees to a place where one of either gender can be accepted on their own merits.  She went out to Kenya on a working holiday, discovered that she had a knack for piloting an airship, and has stayed.  She refers on occasion to the “gilded cage” of life in the London aristocracy, and expresses no interest in returning, even as one of the pampered ladies of the upper class.

     Mark Lingane solves the problem in Tesla by moving the calendar a thousand years into a post-apocalyptic future.  His heroine, Melanie, who is definitely the confidant or “sidekick,” is a dying teenage girl who is dragged by events around her into the quest of his hero.  Of course, as a work of future history, Mark doesn’t have to follow any particular rules, but he has written the agrarian portion of society as having established themselves along Victorian lines, and his young hero is astonished and taken somewhat aback by this very active girl who is so forward that she wears tight trousers in which “I can see the shape of your legs!”  Of course, not being a member of his society, she was never bound by it at all, but the friction between his mores and her free spirit produces a delightfully interesting dichotomy.


 Finally, in Keith Dumble’s trilogy, Lady Jessica, Monster Hunter, the whole issue of women’s lack of equality is simply ignored.  Set in and around Victorian London, Lady Jessica McAlpin is the leader of The Black Diamonds, a scufflin’ crew of, as the title suggests, monster hunters.  Some of these monsters are the traditional ghouls and vampires, others are infernal machines, but no matter the opponent, Lady Jessie and her indomitable crew are right there to fight the forces of evil with whatever weapons are necessary, and no one bothers to suggest that this is no life for a lady.  Lest there be any mistake about this being set in Victorian London, Victoria herself is the target of one of the plots.  You might not think so to read this paragraph, but it works.

            They all work.  Four very different solutions are presented here, and all of them create entertaining reads that reward the reader with a rollicking good time.  I know, one of those stories is mine, but I am basing that statement on its reviews and comments, which are uniformly favorable.  I guess the point is that, as has been stated elsewhere and repeatedly, the three most important elements of fiction are story, story, and story.  If you give your reader a breathtaking ride, he or she won’t complain because of the shape of the vehicle.

  Many of you in this audience are writers, and the point of this article has been to make you think.  As steampunk or Victorian-era authors, how many female players are in your repertory company, and how do you use them?  Careful consideration of this question can bring your writing to a sharper focus than you may have thought possible; you may even be able to use the awareness of this theory to create another player or two.  As a reader, how many do you recognize in the stories of your favorite authors?  At the end of the day, I have to be grateful to Mr. Vidal for raising this point.  It has truly given me a new insight into my own work and that of others, and doesn’t that really count as one of those epiphanies we all love so much?

            So take this bit of knowledge with you as you read or write, and use it to enhance your enjoyment of the activities we find so uplifting.  You may find, as I have, that they make our investment in our favorite fiction deeper and more fulfilling than ever!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Week Three: Doldrums

Well, I hate to say it, but we've truly run into a windless sea. That being said, I have a video for you all! I attempted a Book Trailer for Rule of Sword, with the help of Bryon Alexander (That would be my elder brother) who composed the music for this.

I did the art and the editing, but I'm not totally sold on it. Then again, my self-confidence comes in waves like a roller coaster.

On the Nano front, I'm behind but attempting to catch up.

I'm a tad under the weather at the moment, the allergy season being what it is.

That's all for now.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Writing Characters with Disabilities : Sophia Beaumont Guest Hosts

Today on the blog we have the privilege of hosting Ms. Sophia Beaumont who has come to talk to you all about writing characters with disabilities. 

On the Subject: 

Invisible disabilities can be a challenge to write. I bet that there are at least three people that you know right now who have an invisible disability: Fibromyalgia. Epilepsy. PTSD. There are literally dozens of diseases and conditions that can limit a person physically. Up until the 1950s, Asthma was routinely treated as a mental illness, not a physical one.

The character that I am working with right now was born prematurely in 1903, and barely managed to survive. Now at 22, she leads a mostly normal life—except for her asthma and a visual impairment that is based on my own mother's eye condition: bilateral nystagmus. This is a very rare birth defect that was caused by under development in parts of her brain and inner ear, which leads to constant rapid and uncontrollable eye movement. Today, this is most commonly a side effect of brain injuries or drug overdoses.

Now, when was the last time you read a book where the main character had a physical disability? Differently abled people are all around us, but they are seldom heroes in books or movies, but why not?

Carl Jung described the mythological archetype of the hero with the following:
  • Unusual circumstances surrounding their birth
  • Leaves their family or homeland to live with others
  • An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to an adventure or quest
  • The Hero has a special weapon that only they can wield
  • The Hero must prove themselves many times while on an adventure
  • They must suffer through the Journey and the Unhealable Wound

Jung picked out other traits as well, but those are the big ones. Now, look at that visually impaired character that we were talking about earlier: unusual circumstances at birth, check. Leaving family to live with others: it was not uncommon, especially in Victorian times, for a disabled person to be sent away, either to an asylum or to a family member better able to care for them.

Now, let's see...a traumatic event that leads to an adventure or quest. There's no reason that their physical defect has to be from birth. Perhaps they were wounded during wartime, and are now hunting down the person responsible. Or they could be searching for a cure or treatment.

The special weapon is a little trickier. Perhaps their weapon is supernatural and unrelated. Maybe your wheel-chair bound scientist has created a jetpack and ray gun that only he knows how to use. In my case, my heroine's visual disability is directly related to her ability to see ghosts, something that she can use to her advantage.

As for the last two points on the list, show me someone who is a minority or disabled who doesn't have to prove themselves in a dozen ways every single day just because they are female, or Hispanic or Muslim or mentally ill (or all of the above)?

The scientific research of the Victorian Era paved the way for thousands of cures and treatments in the first half of the 20th century, but were not enough to combat them at the time. Prenatal care was almost non existent. Anti psychotics didn't exist yet. The most common treatment for non-violent mental illness was to keep the patient locked away and calm, and perhaps to give them a simple occupation, like sewing, to pass the time. Club foot and cleft pallet were largely untreatable. Scarlet fever and other illnesses often rendered the sufferer blind or deaf. Prior to the advent of antibiotics, an injured limb was often cut off. Autism, schizophrenia, dissociative personality disorder, postpartum depression, and menopause were treated alongside female hysteria and wandering womb.

To say that you have a completely healthy, white middle class character during this period is, quite frankly, a gross mistake:

  • In 1901, only 1/8 of the British Empire was Caucasian, with the rest being made up of the conquered races of Africa, the Pacific, Asia, and North America.
  • 33% of London residents were born elsewhere, and about half of those coming from outside the British Isles entirely.
  • 40% of the workforce was employed in manual labor/heavy industry, with an additional 40% made up of women, mostly in domestic service.

Look around you at the people in your life. While the numbers and names have changed, minorities in one form or another have existed for as long as human kind. Increasing the diversity of the cast of characters enriches the story and the writing (both in steampunk and other genres), and creates opportunities to connect with readers that may not otherwise exist. Besides, what is the point of creating a fictional world, if you can't correct some of the problems we face in the real one?

More from Sophia can be found at her blog!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Guest Blogging Today

Looking for some new things from me? I'm a guest over at Blimprider's blog!

He'll be talking here sometime next week!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Day Eleven

Our ninth backer has taken us to 13% funded! Thank you all so much. As I said yesterday we're going to have some guests on the blog in a few days to help keep it fresh. The first one should be sometime next week.

I will be a guest on a blog on Thursday, link will go up to that day of.

Still trying to catch up on Nanowrimo, but I am hopeful.

Loki and Hermes are slowly coming to a ceasefire/peace agreement. I think. Of course, kittens are very bouncy and Hermes left bouncy behind ten pounds ago so... That's all for now.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Day Ten

We broke the $400 marker yesterday!

Work continues on Rule of Steel, as well as on the Rule of Sword book trailer. I crossposted my Kickstarter video to Youtube, hoping to drum up some more traffic. I'll be guesting on a blog on the 13th, and will start to have some guests here as well talking about steampunk, powerful ladies and historical fiction.

I think that's all for now.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Day Nine

Well, we're in the doldrums folks. I'm feeling a bit stressed about it. So I'm trying to focus on writing book three, finishing the book trailer and the new baby we just brought home.
This little rascal is Loki, formerly Atticus. He's about three months old, long, and bushy with big paws and a long tail--probably more than a tad of Maine Coon in him. Right now we're trying to blend the household as our other resident god, Hermes, does not generally share well with others.

There seems to be hope as Hermes is not being aggressive and Loki is staying out of his room.

On the Nano front: I was behind, still a bit behind, but I'm catching up now! So hurrah! I've broken 10K words.

That's all for now.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


Today I attended (and 1/4 hosted) a Type-in for some of the Nanowrimo folks. It was fun, clacky and cool to see all the other typewriter enthusiasts. As far as it goes, I'm behind on word count, but I am finally getting into the meatier bits of the subplot!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I Was Interviewed!

Fellow author Michael McVey had me over on his blog for an interview today!


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Months of the Year

 Like any writer who completely overhauls the timeline of the world, I had to consider language. Since the overwhelming language used in Charlotte's world is Gaelic, that changed a few things. Including the months of the year, and it also changed when the new year is. For simplicity sake, I started here with January and simply went through the list.








Méan Fomhain

Deireadh Fomhain

Samhain *New Years


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What Flavor of Steampunk?

The Rules of Engagement books are, in fact, steampunk. What is steampunk exactly? Well, typically they are neo-Victorian stories with steam-tech in a science-fiction fashion. Alternative histories abound.

Charlie is decidedly in the alt. historical crowd, but I knew from the start I wanted to infuse steampunk into her world as well. The first book doesn't make this very obvious, as Charlie spends much of it isolated from the advances of technology, but book two introduces a steampunk stable: The Airship.

This invention plays a key role in Rule of Shadow. A few other inventions make appearances, an early automobile is presented, as well as a new form of powered light. Charlotte's world doesn't just run on technology though, it also works on magic. The ether. It is this magic that both science and sorcerers are attempting to harness to use in conjunction with other powers.

It's Rule of Steel, however, that will really give you a look at the mechanics of this world. More airships, more old school science fiction devices and possibly a ray gun...

Book three also delves into the world outside of Eire. So the contrast between the Empire's technology and the Continent will be made more clear.

Unlike some of my steampunk authorial cohorts, I've chosen not to utilize some of the gothic horror tropes of the day(At least, not in these books). Instead I'm working more with historical accounts of war, science fiction, heaps of legends and a healthy dose of magic. The best thing about steampunk, I find, is it is eminently flexible.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Day Three: Let's Talk About Charlie!

Charlotte Aoibheann Ridley, also known as Charles Ridley, best know as Charlie. Charlie's story opens with a storm, but it really began with the death of her father. Her mother having passed some years prior, she is left with only her older brother Eamon to rely on. Eamon decides to pursue his acceptance to the Academy of Magic in Prussia, and so the two are bound for the Continent near the beginning of the storm season.

Tragedy strikes again when their ship is caught in a storm and her brother is washed overboard.
She's washed ashore on a lonely beach she doesn't at first recognize and for her own safety, decides to undertake the pretense of being a boy. 

Charlie finds herself on the isle of Lochlan, the Northern most isle in the Empire, and home to Lochlan Academy, where some of the finest officers in all of Eire are trained. 

Charlie's passion has always been the sword. She's always loved riding and fighting--and playing pranks on her brother. With a temper and a sharp tongue, she never really felt as though she fit into the life of a lady. When the opportunity not to be a lady is presented--Charlie leaps on it. With vague wording in her father's Will and unknown aid from an accomplice, Charlie becomes Charles and tries to put tragedy behind her.

Charlie isn't just some hot-tempered swordswoman, she's also quite bright and her instincts and tenacity lend themselves to another line of work--that of a Shadow Hand, a spy in service to the Crown. Though it was not in her plans, Charlie falls into the role with ease. She enjoys unraveling puzzles and catching people in lies. 

Of course, she's going to have to try very hard not to get caught in a lie herself.


A shot of my reference shelves!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Day Two: Nanowrimo: Rule of Steel

This month is Nanowrimo, which means I'll be participating in that while the Kickstarter goes forth. As of right now, I'm about 3K words into Rule of Steel. Charlie is having a bit of trouble adjusting to a new situation.

The research for this book is still ongoing, as I'm developing the alternate timelines for about seven other countries. Some of this groundwork has already been done, but a lot of it will come in second drafts.

Right now though, I'm concentrating on the first draft.

Anyhow, right now we're sitting at 8% funded, I'm overjoyed and a bit surprised. There's been a bit of traffic on the page, some Facebook shares and... I'm a Kickstarter Staff Pick!

That's all to report for today, stay tuned for more news from the front.


For Twitter updates follow me @ashkalexander  Hashtag #roekickstarter
On Facebook

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Guess what? The Kickstarter just launched! Learn more about the campaign, harangue me with questions or chip in if you like.

About Me

Having traditionally published in the past, I am well aware of the trials, tribulations and time it can take to get a book ready for print. Luckily, I've got the books written so now it's just a matter of editing, formatting and all of that laborious stuff that makes sure the book is as good as it can be.
My goal is to independently publish the first two books in what I intend to be a trilogy. I'm planning on an e-book release in all formats as well as a small run of one hundred for both books in paperback. I'm the one in charge of the cover art and I've contracted a wonderful editor.
I'm hoping you folks will help me with that. Of course, now you want to know what these books are about.
So find out here!