Lauren Zurchin came through Chicago and we had some fun doing a photo shoot. There are more photos, so this is just a teaser.
One of the interesting things about a lot of the volunteer groups in WWI was that they had to wear a uniform, but they also had to supply it. This meant that there was some variation in what people wore within certain parameters. The hat that I’ve got on? Someone who didn’t have Ginger’s means wouldn’t have trimmed it and she likely wouldn’t have worn it to the London Branch, but might have worn it to a hospitality tent.
Incidentally, the requirement to provide one’s own uniform was a not-so-subtle way of enforcing class lines. It meant that only a woman of means could join the Women’s Auxiliary Corps and kept out shop girls and the like. If they wanted to help with the war effort, they wound up in ammunition packing plants or doing heavy labor on the home front because they couldn’t afford to a) have a custom suit made and b) take unpaid time off work.
The WAC wanted only nice girls from good families. This kind of barrier still exists today as a way of keeping out undesirables while still being able to claim, on the face of things, that opportunities are open to all.
This was recorded in 1930 and is fascinating. He relies on personal experiments to prove that it worked and sees Spiritualism as something that can exist side-by-side with other belief systems. He also talks about the “fraud and folly” that occurs in Spiritualism, too.
There are two recordings and its worth listening to both. Or at least I thought it was.
Bishop O’Connell is joining us today to talk about his novel The Returned. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Almost a year after their wedding, and two since their daughter Fiona was rescued from a kidnapping by dark faeries, life has finally settled down for Caitlin and Edward. They maintain a façade of normalcy, but a family being watched over by the fae’s Rogue Court is far from ordinary. Still, it seems the perfect time to go on their long-awaited honeymoon, so they head to New Orleans.
Little do they know, New Orleans is at the center of a territory their Rogue Court guardians hold no sway in, so the Court sends in Wraith, a teenage spell slinger, to watch over them. It’s not long before they discover an otherworldly force is overtaking the city, raising the dead, and they’re drawn into a web of dark magic. At the same time, a secret government agency tasked with protecting the mortal world against the supernatural begins their own investigation of the case. But the culprit may not be the villain everyone expects. Can Wraith, Caitlin, and Edward stop whoever is bringing the vengeful dead back to life before another massacre, and before an innocent is punished for crimes beyond her control?
What’s Bishop’s favorite bit?
I love magic, adore it. I don’t mean stage magic, though that can be cool too. No, I mean the “real” kind of magic: Harry Dresden, Gandalf, Merlin, Jane Ellsworth, to name a few. I’m also an old-school computer geek. Not quite punch cards old, but just barely. My first computer was a Commodore Vic-20, which I received despite asking for an Atari (my parents said I could make my own games on the Commodore, which in fairness I did). While my computer skills provided me a future means of steady employment, it also was the start of my fascination with tech and gadgets. It might seem that these two loves are at opposite sides of the spectrum, and never shall the twain meet. Sure, there is urban fantasy in books, a few different RPGs—Shadow Run, Rifts—but none of them really blended the two. The game Mage did with a specific group players could use, but I wanted more.
So in my second novel, The Forgotten, I introduced Wraith; a homeless teen, a genius at math and science, and her magic is based on quantum theory. Though I didn’t know the term at the time, she’s also a synesthete (from synesthesia). While other wizards in my world “feel” magic and control it through sheer mental focus, Wraith literally sees it all around her. Because of her scientific inclinations, she deduces that the symbols, numbers, and equations drifting around her are in fact the quantum information of reality. This lets her hack and modify that information with equations (spells) and cause all kinds of cool things to happen. She’s sort of a mashup of Neo, Will Hunting, and Scarlet Witch. I also introduced some basic level magical technology. It was mostly cobbled together bits—the kind of thing a homeless kid could collect—and looked very steampunk.
When I was writing The Returned, Wraith has had a year of mental stability and is more confident in her abilities. I wanted her to start using various bits of tech and modifying them. The most obvious choice was to give her a smartphone. I remember how important music was to me as a teen, so that would give her the chance to get into music (she’s a big Doubleclicks fan), but again, I wanted more. So I decided to have her modify the phone. As much as I’d love to give it all kinds of awesome tricks, I knew it needed to be practical and believable. When you’re a homeless kid, you don’t have extended periods of access to electricity; not reliably anyway. So she modified her phone to absorb energy in a myriad of forms: thermal, kinetic, radiation, and even dark energy. As such, her phone never runs out of juice. A smartphone also means apps, and it made sense that she would design her own, and that they’d have magical aspects to them. After all, her magic dealt in pure information, and what’s computer code but information? Why couldn’t spells in fact, be stored as apps? If she could see the quantum information of reality, there was no reason she couldn’t see the “information” behind the code. And since modifying one would naturally change the other, why couldn’t she work it from the other direction; change/create a program by altering the quantum information? Answer: there was no reason.
Holy crap, I blended magic and advanced tech!
That was when the computer geek in me make the next logical connection: magic based computer hacking. Yeah, I admit it, I had a little bit of a nerd-gasm at this point. Then I started figuring it all out. She wouldn’t even need a keyboard, a monitor, or any interface. She saw the information around her and could interact with it directly. Things like code protections and encryption would be useless against her as a quantum hacker. Since she could see the information that defined them, she would know what solution was needed to solve the algorithm and gain access, or decrypt the data she was after. This idea even altered the idea of data storage. She wasn’t limited to traditional media. She could copy the relevant information to quite literally, anything, modifying the destination’s information to match the source’s. And since this would be on a quantum level, storage capacity was no longer an issue, assuming each particle could be translated as one bit of data.
With the how and why it would work completed, I set out to writing the relevant scenes, and I loved it! I borrowed inspiration from my experiences playing Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun, reading William Gibson novels, even some TV shows—anyone remember Wild Palms?—and movies. Chuck Wendig said that writing is a job, which means sometimes its work; ditch digging he called it. Well, other times, it’s freaking magic, with a little tech thrown in.
Bishop O’Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, California where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos. After wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he settled in Richmond VA, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed “visionary” of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint, where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.
Beth Cato is joining us today with her novel Breath of Earth. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.
When assassins kill the wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off. . . .
Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.
What’s Beth’s favorite bit?
My new novel, Breath of Earth, is alt history steampunk fantasy set in 1906 San Francisco. I like to joke “Spoiler alert: there’s a big earthquake,” because the date and place (and the very cover) give away that plot point in a major way. That’s fine by me. The earthquake happens, yes, but the circumstances are a bit more complicated than a mere tectonic shift.
My heroine, Ingrid Carmichael, is a geomancer. I drew on history, science, and mythology to create my own magic system and unique earthquake. I’m a research geek, so this was absolutely my favorite bit.
For me, earthquakes are personal. I’m a native Californian. One of my earliest memories is being three years old and in the bathtub when the devastating Coalinga earthquake occurred nearby. We practiced earthquake drills in schools. Family trips to the coast meant crossing the very visible ridged line of the infamous San Andreas Fault.
As part of my worldbuilding, I had to figure out how to cause earthquakes–and more importantly, how to stop them.
My version of 1906 features technology that is powered by crystals called kermanite that store the earth’s energy like batteries. Geomancers like Ingrid are conduits. During an earthquake, geomancers don’t simply feel the rumbling–they siphon the magic of the earth and actually stop tremblors. This isn’t without risks. Earth energy causes a spike in body temperature that can kill them quickly unless they break direct contact with the ground or grab kermanite, which will pull the energy out of their bodies. Ingrid, being the heroine, is especially gifted–and cursed–by her incredible ability to hold and use energy.
Kermanite and geomancy are my fabrications, but when it came to the actual earthquake, I relied heavily on historical fact. There are tons of books on the subject, fiction and non, and movies as well. The data was overwhelming, really. I had to pick and choose what would reinforce my new version of history.
For example, Enrico Caruso is famous for singing in Carmen the night before the real disaster; in my world, there is a highly controversial performance of the opera Lincoln, which celebrates the president’s Emancipation Proclamation as well as his late life work on behalf of Chinese refugees. That’s because the Civil War ended early because of an alliance between the American Union and Imperial Japan–and in 1906, the two are still partnered in their efforts to dominate mainland Asia.
Plate tectonics–the genuine science–play a role in my novel, but there are also more fantastical elements. Mythologies around the world attribute earthquakes to entities like massive two-headed snakes or shifting turtles or a giant namazu (catfish) twitching in the sea. Ingrid’s mentor is obsessed with researching semi-mythical geomantic Hidden Ones. Unlike everyday magical creatures like unicorns or pixies, these Hidden Ones are so extraordinary, so deific, that people question if they still exist at all. Hint: there might be something to the old stories.
For all the media ballyhoo about when the next “Big One” will happen, no one knows. There is something terrifying, something magical, about that. Breath of Earth gave me the chance to explore a subject that has fascinated me ever since I was a scared three-year-old asking, “What happened?”
Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.
She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.
I am so proud of MidAmeriCon II and their safety staff. Why? Because I violated the Code of Conduct and they held me accountable. It would have been really easy for them to give me a pass because I’m “Someone” and to say, “Oh, it doesn’t really matter” for me. Even though it was stressful for them, they followed their procedures and it was a great, very respectful process.
In fact, that’s why I’m writing this post. I asked if there was anything that I could do to help mitigate the damage I’d done – not as a bargaining point, but because I’d screwed up. What we agreed on was that Codes of Conduct are really important, and that part of making sure that they are robust is knowing that everyone is held accountable at the same levels.
So what happened? I served scotch while I was on a panel. It’s something I’ve done before, but in this case, it violates the code of conduct because it potentially jeopardizes the con’s relationship with the venue. It’s something I didn’t think about.
The fact that my violation was accidental doesn’t matter.
As I said, I’m so proud of MidAmeriCon II for the way they handled this. I finished the panel. Two members of the concom took me to a private room where we could do an incident report. I told them what happened and… according to the policies and procedures, this means that they need to ask me to leave for the remainder of the day. It’s not a revocation of membership, or anything, just a one-day suspension sorta like a time-out.
Again, it would have been easier for them to ignore it. I had a panel that I was moderating afterwards and that means they then had to restaff that. I have a fairly big footprint on social media so there was the fear that I might have thrown a fit and caused a firestorm. The violation was accidental – and… and all of those reasons have been used to excuse inappropriate behavior in the past.
In order to have robust and functional harassment policy – in order to make sure people feel safe, it is so, so important that a Code of Conduct is administrated evenly regardless of a person’s status.
I’m really sorry to have added to their stress and so proud of them and our community.
So of you are at WorldCon and playing along with my roving launch party for GHOST TALKERS, I should probably tell you what you’re aiming for. Kinda important. In the Tor party tonight (9pm, Crowne Plaza, Ballroom), I’ll write a one page short story, on a manual typewriter, while you wait. Come, even if you aren’t playing to win.
Certainly, it won’t be easy to decipher all the layers of ciphers, passphrases, and live drops. Of course, I have faith that you can get through all five layers. Despite the fact that they get progressively harder… Each one is a type that I’ve mentioned on the blog, although, perhaps also in coded form in my blog posts about the roving launch party.
Today, I’ve already had a couple of people come up to me with the correct passphrase for my roving launch party. Here is where I should make it clear that though I said the party is tomorrow, it’s actually all weekend. Except that tomorrow is the day that I’ll be in costume.
Perhaps it might be helpful for you if I talk about a couple of different types of ciphers and codes and the ways that spies passed messages back and forth. Okay…here’s an excerpt, which I hope you’ll accept as being out of context.
Mrs. Richardson asked, “Are there really codes based on the weather?”
Ben laughed, and a bubble of amusement floated up from Merrow. Ben said, “Th e weather. Fish. Th e number and length of pauses you take in a sentence. I once knew a fellow who could stammer in Morse code. It was quite impressive. Another woman used the length of stitches in her dresses to carry messages. I used to carry cigars that had onionskin paper tucked inside. Lived in fear of grabbing the wrong one and smoking my secret message.”
Merrow said, “Remember the baker, sir?”
“Right!” Ben rubbed his mouth, grinning. “We had a live drop who signalled that he had a message waiting by the number of pastries in the window. You had to let him know you were the contact by ordering a specific grouping of pastry. Damn good pastries. Pleasantest password exchange I’ve ever had to do.”
So what’s a live drop? That’s when you actually talk to your contact, usually through an exchange of passwords. Coming up to me and giving me the passphrase from the roving launch party post, will trigger an exchange. An exchange. Right. Delivering the passphrase means you’ll get something in return.
It might be written in plain text. Sometimes it’ll be a cipher.
A cipher is when numbers, letters, or symbols are substituted to create text that is unreadable except to someone who knows the key.
Common ciphers still abound in everyday use. One example, in use on internet forums today is rotational 13. Most people know that as rot13. Meaning that it’s a type of Caesar cipher in which the alphabet is rotated, in this case by 13 spaces. Once you rotate the alphabet A becomes N and so on. Now, you can do a Caesar with any number of rotational spaces.
Cracking a common Caesar is fairly easy to crack by brute force, which means that you just keep trying rotations until you run through them all. Above that in difficulty level is a “keyed Caesar” in which a phrase goes at the beginning of the alphabet. Every letter not used in in the key get rotated to the end. So, I was going to do one in which a rot7 returned “E tu Brute” and then if you said that passphrase to me, I would hand you the next code and say, “Caesar rot in hell.” As an example, the rotation then became INHELABCDFGJKMOPQRSTUWXYZ. Rather sadly, as fun as that bit of verbal humor was, in trials no one got it.
Of course, there are also skip codes, book codes, columnar codes, double-codes like the Navajo code talkers who were writing messages in Navajo which was then run through a cipher as well. Kinda a there’s a ton of cool stuff, huh?
To celebrate the release of GHOST TALKERS I am being sneaky again today — as if that is a surprise to anyone — and have once again snuck a code into a post. La! It is different from the previous ones. But with all the research I did into ciphers and codes for GHOST TALKERS I have found myself wanting to use them all. I know! So — if you can figure this one out then it will serve as a password for a deleted scene. Deleted! I do need to warn you though — it seems only fair — that this scene does contain spoilers. So many spoilers! So do not read it until you have had a chance to finish the book. I mean it! I hope that code itself is not too hard. Perhaps it is so — if you are really struggling then this link contains a blatantly obvious clue.
Erica L. Satifka is joining us today with her novel Stay Crazy. Here’s the publisher’s description:
After a breakdown in college landed Emmeline Kalberg in a mental hospital, she’s struggling to get her life on track. She’s back in her hometown and everyone knows she’s crazy, but the twelve pills she takes every day keep her anxiety and paranoia in check. So when a voice that calls itself Escodex begins talking to Em from a box of frozen chicken nuggets, she’s sure that it’s real and not another hallucination. Well… pretty sure.
An evil entity is taking over the employees of Savertown USA, sucking out their energy so it can break into Escodex’s dimension. When her coworkers start dying, Em realizes that she may be the only one who can stop things from getting worse. Now she must convince her therapist she’s not having a relapse and keep her boss from firing her. All while getting her coworker Roger to help enact the plans Escodex conveys to her through the RFID chips in the Savertown USA products. It’s enough to make anyone Stay Crazy.
What’s Erica’s favorite bit?
ERICA L. SATIFKA
The protagonist of my debut novel Stay Crazy, Emmeline Kalberg, isn’t like most girls. That’s because she’s recently been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which makes it hard to distinguish fantasy from reality, a situation that becomes even more complex when she’s contacted by an interdimensional being who tells her that our universe is on the verge of annihilation. And she’s not alone.
Roger Cermak, Em’s coworker at the alien-infested Savertown USA, also has schizophrenia. Unlike Em, his psychotic experiences are not recent, and are totally controlled with medication and the passage of time. So when he too is contacted by the being called Escodex, he knows it’s real. Em, however, doesn’t trust him. Why would she? She can’t even trust herself. Here’s what happens during their first extended conversation:
“I’ll have a diet pop. It’s on him.” She narrowed her eyes at Roger in the dimly lit booth. “What do you want to talk about?”
“I want to talk about the voices you’ve been hearing.”
She frowned. “Come again?”
“Don’t play dumb. I saw the burn on your forehead. The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago. First I got a burn, then I started hearing voices.”
She looked out the window at the blocky facade of Savertown USA. “So?”
“You don’t think this whole situation’s a little strange?”
“Lots of weird things happen to me, mister. I’m a crazy person.”
“But this weird thing is actually happening.” Roger sipped at his own Diet Coke. “Listen, I didn’t believe it at first either. I thought I was hallucinating again. But the same thing happened to both of us and that proves it’s real.”
Em rolled her straw between her fingertips. “What do you mean, ‘again’?”
“I used to be schizophrenic. Haven’t had an episode in twenty years. Until now. But I’m not crazy, and neither are you.”
Em looked at Roger. “I think you’re mistaken about that one.”
It was really important to me that Em not be the only neuro-atypical major character in the book. While she didn’t always have schizophrenia (this book has been through countless “imaginings”), once I figured out she did, Roger’s character sprang up almost immediately, fully formed.
Their relationship isn’t easily defined. It’s definitely not romantic, it’s not even really friendship, and Em would rather die than call Roger something as sappy as a mentor. Yet, as they work together, Em sees a glimpse of her possible future. Roger is overweight and balding (two common side effects of antipsychotic medication), and she mocks his appearance out of fear. But Roger is also stable, and smart, and kind. Throughout the course of their uneasy alliance, Em realizes there’s life after her diagnosis. At the beginning of the book, she feels and to a large extent is totally alone: her mom doesn’t get her at all, and try as he might her therapist isn’t really equipped to deal with her. Roger becomes the positive model Em needs, even if she’d never admit it.
Roger is about twenty years older than Em, and developed his disorder in a time when people were even more misinformed about mental illness than they are now, especially one as serious as schizophrenia. And he’s been through a lot of crappy things: homelessness, jail, involuntary commitment. Just as Em sees Roger as a possible future, Roger sees Em as a window into his past, and he’s determined not to let her make some of the same mistakes he’s made, no matter how stubborn she is (and she’s really stubborn).
So often in books that feature a neuro-atypical character, there’s only one of them. I really wanted to do something different, something to show that two mentally ill characters can learn from each other, prop each other up, and most importantly, kick some alien ass.
Erica L. Satifka is a writer and/or friendly artificial construct, forged in a heady mix of iced coffee and sarcasm. She enjoys rainy days, questioning reality, ignoring her to-do list, and adding to her collection of tattoos. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld,Shimmer, Lightspeed, and Intergalactic Medicine Show, and her debut novel Stay Crazy was released in August 2016 by Apex Publications. Originally from Pittsburgh, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her spouse Rob and an indeterminate number of cats.
In 1916, as part of WWI the Women’s Auxiliary Corps set up a series of “hospitality rooms.” Maybe that sounds like a euphemism, but at the time it was in response to a recognized need to care for soldiers’ mental as well as physical health.
When they had time off, soldiers could go and sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Inside the tent, a young lady would pour the tea, perhaps sing a little, and just engage in gentle conversation. Therefore, in the spirit of that, at Worldcon, I’m going to have a roving launch party. Here’s my thinking…
This is in part because I’d rather not try to cram people into a hotel room that’s too hot and too crowded. Heaven forfend. Everyone always feels like they are on the front lines at a convention anyway, so I’ll be wandering around on Thursday in costume as a member of the Spirit Corps.
Let me explain how this works. On the floor, or on panels, if you find me I’ll have recipes for cocktails, postcards so you can write home from “the front,” biscuits, rum, and… coded messages. Now, there is in fact, a code in this post. Damnable clever of me, what? Oh, I’ve made it simple, so don’t worry. Now, try to decipher it to get the password you need to deliver to me at WorldCon.
But what happens if you decipher it? Rather than tell you straight up, I’ll hint. All I’ll say is that at the Tor.com party on Friday night, there will be some additional prizes, including books, cocktails, and a bespoke story typed on a 1913 Corona #3 portable typewriter to your specifications, by me, while you wait. No seriously. Clearly, you’re already sorting out the code. How long will it take you to solve it?
Psst. Want to see the trailer for Ghost Talkers? It’s hosted over at Books Smugglers, along with behind the scenes stuff AND a giveaway.
Ghost Talkers is a new novel from fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal featuring the mysterious spirit corps and their heroic work in World War I. We are delighted to be hosting the reveal of the exquisite book trailer, made with paper cut animation by Rebecca Celsi along with super cool notes from the artist and the author on its creation.
People ask me if it is easier to narrate my own books or someone else’s. No. Neither. The one thing about narrating my own stuff is that I get to share the blooper reel. I rarely get to do that when it’s someone else’s fiction because it can often sound like I’m mocking them. Which…to be fair, sometimes I am. (“Yes,” she agreed, nodding.)* But I also mock my own
For instance, the NSFW moment in this recording is when I remembered that I’d included Middle English in the novel. Really? That was necessary?
Anyway, this contains a variety of the ways in which I screw up. A lot. Transposing words, tongue tied, and one very quiet burp.
Brooke Johnson is joining us today with her novel The Guild Conspiracy. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In the face of impossible odds, can one girl stem the tides of war?
It has been six months since clockwork engineer Petra Wade destroyed an automaton designed for battle, narrowly escaping with her life. But her troubles are far from over. Her partner on the project, Emmerich Goss, has been sent away to France, and his father, Julian, is still determined that a war machine will be built. Forced to create a new device, Petra subtly sabotages the design in the hopes of delaying the war, but sabotage like this isn’t just risky: it’s treason. And with a soldier, Braith, assigned to watch her every move, it may not be long before Julian finds out what she’s done.
Now she just has to survive long enough to find another way to stop the war before her sabotage is discovered and she’s sentenced to hang for crimes against the empire. But Julian’s plans go far deeper than she ever realized . . . war is on the horizon, and it will take everything Petra has to stop it in this fast-paced, thrilling sequel to The Brass Giant.
What’s Brooke’s favorite bit?
Two words: MECH FIGHTS.
Think Real Steel (you know… that one movie with Hugh Jackman and the boxing robots) meets the smaller-scale bot fights of Big Hero 6, except, instead of futuristic, computer-controlled robots, you’ve got teenage engineers fighting with grungy combat mechs, built using the most advanced technology of the late Victorians. It’s all clockwork and steam, early combustion engines and primitive electronic circuitry, somehow cobbled together into deadly mechanical combatants. And then they get to punch each other.
How could that not be my favorite bit?
In The Brass Giant, the first book of the Chroniker City series, the main character, Petra, helps build a clockwork automaton, proving herself as a capable engineer and attracting the attention of the Guild—the elite institution of engineers she desperately wishes to join—but after attempting to expose the underlying conspiracy behind the automaton’s construction, all of her involvement in the project is buried and forgotten, unknown but to the select few who would rather keep it that way.
Fast forward to The Guild Conspiracy, and once again, Petra finds her talent and abilities questioned and challenged by everyone around her. No one knows who she is or what she’s done. They don’t realize that the failed automaton project collecting dust in the armory—the same automaton that prompted them to start the mechanical fight ring in the first place—was built from her design. All they know is that she is a girl, and girls can’t possibly be engineers.
Well Petra is there to prove them wrong, one fight at a time.
The mech fights were one of the earliest ideas I had for The Guild Conspiracy, surviving several reimaginings of the novel over the years, but when I finally finished the first draft—more than 50,000 words over target and several months past my deadline—I was worried my editor would ask me to cut the fights for the sake of pacing or tension or for sheer lack of relevance to the main plot. I was determined to make sure that didn’t happen.
The mech fights were my way of adding a glimmer of something good and bright—in all their technicolor, bombastic, impossible glory—to an otherwise dreary and somber plot. So I did my best to meld this seemingly extraneous subplot into the rest of the story, making it more and more integral to Petra’s story arc with each iteration. And I must have done a good job because by the time I sent the manuscript to my publisher, my editor loved every word. No complaints whatsoever. The mech fights were there to stay.
For me, steampunk has always been about grandeur, lots of flash and bang, gears and goggles, but the best steampunk has more than enough substance behind the shiny brass aesthetic. The machines in my books are improbable, and sometimes impossible, but with the mech fights especially, there is this underlying sense of wonder and awe built into to every ticking gear, into the ratchet and clank of these incredible machines. Every puff of exhaust and churning piston is there as a testament to the innovation and invention of brilliant minds, of engineers and their ability to dream and imagine and build something new, something impossible, something never done before. That is what I wanted to capture with the mech fights. They exist as a glimmer of hope for the future, a promise of something other than the inescapable war looming over the horizon.
And that hope is just as important to the story as Petra trying to stop the conspiracy.
Plus, it’s fun. 🙂
She eyed Bellamy across the ring, his face drawn in concentration, waiting for her to act. She would have to distract him, break his guard.
“What?” he spat.
Flipping a switch on the control box, she activated the transport wheels on the bottom of the mech’s feet. All she needed was a second or two, a slight delay in his reactions. If she could get past his defenses, knock the mech to the floor, the fight would be as good as hers.
She poised her fingers over the controls. “Tell me how it feels, knowing you’re about to lose to a girl.”
He scoffed, his arms relaxing slightly as he glared at her. “You wish.”
Brooke Johnson is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving author. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes one day to live somewhere a bit more mountainous.
My local independent bookstore is Volumes Bookcafe. I have spent many happy hours writing there while sipping a coffee, or cider. Or wine. That’s right, it’s a bookstore with coffee and wine. It is perfect.
Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force. Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps […]