On Spoons, Steampunk and Socialising

The alarm went off twice this morning. Well, I think it was twice. Maybe it was three? I cracked open an eye and cringed back into the sheets away from the sunlight streaming through the curtains. The alarm blared once more. My hand slapped the off button. I groaned and dragged myself out of bed.

I'm really not a morning person, especially after draining several days worth of spoons with an all day event. (The spoon theory is an effective way of describing how chronic illness or disability affects life. If you're not familiar with the theory, you can find out all about it here.) Friday's 13-hour celebrations for steampunk's 30th (naming) anniversary left me depleted. It was a long (but fun) day.

Socialising takes a lot of effort for me. It's exhausting. It's not you. It's me. In public, I spend most of the time trying to fight the urge to run away and hide. Anxiety does that. I usually organise my social events carefully, with a few days after to recover those precious spoons.

Fortunately it was an online event and it was celebrating something I love: steampunk. (Otherwise I would've been a gibbering mess if I'd spent all thirteen hours face-to-face with so many people without a break.) Large crowds, particularly in shopping centres with their cacophony of noises, crush me.

This got me thinking. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I do conventions? Why do I do talks...? Why do I walk out the door at all?

There's a stereotype: the starving writer (that's a whole other blog post just there) scribbling away in a lonely garret - alone, with only the artistic muse for company - locked in the struggle to create the perfect prose.  But, despite this romantic (Victorian) vision, writers need company too. I need company too. I need to experience life, not just write about it.

So why do I keep pushing myself to attend events - social or professional?

Because, deep down, I like people. I love conversations where I suddenly realise the sun is rising and we've been chatting all night. I love talking writing, science, art, Doctor Who, steampunk. I'm fine one-on-one or in a small group. Where I feel safe.

On a bad day, I push myself to do online socialising. I can cringe in the corner while I type supposedly confident words - and no one can see my fear. But I'm still engaging with the world.

A couple of years ago I found an online steampunk forum, The Steampunk Empire. Tucked away in a corner was a writers group, The Scribblers Den - a band of steampunk writers spanning the globe. We chatted about writing, steampunk (lots of steampunk), events, shared pictures and stories. I felt comfortable there.

Unfortunately, as online entities often do, it disappeared. Some of us had seen the cracks. Some of us lived in denial. On a, soon-to-be bleak, day in March I logged onto the forum and - horror of horrors - my beloved Scribblers Den had dissolved into the aether!

But, never fear, my dear Reader, we had a plan (albeit a very vague one). Soon the Refugees of Steampunk Empire assembled on Facebook. We lamented, explored a few new enclaves and finally found a new home; the Steampunk Dominion was formed. My dear Scribblers' Den had returned from exile! (Thank you to the intrepid pilgrims - especially Lee and William - who founded our new realm.) I could once again frolic in steampunky goodness and forget about my anxieties.

You can now find fellow steampunks on The Steampunk Dominion's webpage and forum, or on Facebook group - The Steampunk Dominion (our bolt hole in case of future host demises).

Writing through Writers’ Block

"What?" you ask. "How can you write through writers' block? Doesn't it mean you're stuck, and can't write?"

Well, yes... and no.

Here's how Cambridge dictionary defines writers block: the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

I'm currently in the middle of writing the third (and last book) in the Adventures of Viola Stewart, The Illusioneer & Other Tales. The first story rolled onto the page. In From the Depths, Viola is in Scotland, recovering at a beach resort after her ordeals in Eye of the Beholder.  Of course, she is swept up in a series of unexpected events. We meet a new character. This story ended up twice as long as previous shorts. I didn't want it to end.

I started on the next short story, Tomorrow, When I Die. This is a more convoluted story, requiring fiddling of ... (spoilers!) and some fun research on Victorian Christmas traditions. Then it happened. It crept up on me, taking me by surprise; the realisation that this was to be Viola's last set of (traditional) adventures. ("Gasp!" I hear you say.

Never fear, dear Reader, I have a few plans up my sleeve - but that's for another time, another blog.)

About this time, a late bout of dust-induced summer bronchitis hit. I felt like shite. Being ill is certainly not helpful when trying to build up the will-power to wade through the dreaded marshland I designate Writers' Block. I see it as a marshland as it is inconvenient, an impediment to moving forward and I must plan my way to proceed or sink further down.

First find the cause: why do I get writers' block?

I've thought about this in depth (perhaps way too much!). It seems to strike me at two different stages:

  1. When I'm staring at a blank page. I know the gist of the story. I can usually see the end scene in my head, the mood I want to create. But the words refuse to flow from my brain onto the screen. At this point, I am usually working pen on paper; words seem to flow better with a pen or pencil in my hand.
  2. when I am nearing the end of a story. I'm finally having fun. The characters are co-operating, even enjoying themselves. Then the penny drops; it has to end. I panic. I don't want it to end. I don't want to leave my characters behind. But I must. Perhaps if I don't write those final words...?

These are things I have to deal with. They are not new. In 2014, I had almost finished the first draft of what I thought would be my first novel, The Department of Curiosities. I had about four scenes to write. Crunch, the writers' block hit me.  What was I to do? I started on a short story, (reviving) a character from An Eye to Detail, short listed the year before in Australian Literature Review's murder and mystery short story competition.

The block shifted. I kept writing Viola's s adventures with gusto (There were minor blocks but nothing as long-lasting as that with DOC.)  I'm now ready - and can't wait - to return to The Department of Curiosity - my next project after The Illusioneer. 

How do I Tackle Writers' Block?

I have a box of story ideas. I keep getting them. Not all are worthy of a full story, but they are there. I usually have at least three (sometimes four or five) stories on the go. When I hit the wall, I redirect my energies toward another story and let the original one bubble away in the background - ensuring I move forward, and not wallow.

This time I was side-tracked onto a story to submit to a (absent) Sherlock Holmes anthology: write a story in the Holmes mileaux, sans Sherlock himself.

Bang! The main character was there. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I could see, hear, smell the final scene. This short is now being polished with final edits and about to be submitted. Wish me luck. (And another series is born. I can't wait to write another story with my new detective and her soon-to-be-drafted side-kick. Though I need to finish The Illusioneer and the DOC first.)

Short stories are fantastic. They give me a brief holiday from my main project, just enough time to let the original story gurgle back up to the surface.

April is Camp NaNoWriMo and I'm ready to plunge Viola back into her adventures. I hope you'll join the ride.

Photo © 2017 Karen J Carlisle. All rights reserved.

Re-imagining a Better World

Historical re-enactment is often accused of avoiding the real world, ignoring history's atrocities or hiding in the past. Sometimes all three. In my experience this is not the case. Most re-enactors (and historians) will tell you it is important to look back and analyse history so we can learn from past mistakes, to improve our future.

One of the most important reasons to look back into and analyse the past is to learn from society's mistakes. Steampunk looks into the past, but with modern eyes; it is a re-imagination of the past, not a slavish re-creation. Colonial England was all about domination and power, a way to fuel the economy of mother England. Instead, we can embrace the diversity of cultures. The 'punk philosophy' inspires us to question authority, society's ethics, politics and gender roles and encourages us to look for solutions for society's short-falls. Doing so allows us to embrace cultures and celebrate diversity.

Suna Dasi of Steampunk India is one example: "Transferring this and many other aspects of Victorian society to an alternate, Post-Mutiny India, incorporating native characters unhampered by traditional gender roles, seems an opportunity for fiction that is too good to let lie."

Through steampunk, and Steampunk Hands, I discovered Josué Ramos  award winning writer of science fiction, terror and historic tales. Josué is part of the Spanish steampunk community, organising the EuroSteamCon Madrid and posts regularly on (huzzah, for google translation) his blog Mundosteampunk. You can find my 2015 Steampunk Hands guest blog on Mundosteampunk here.

El Investigator is part of the Mexican steampunk community and has been involved in varied steampunk anthologies.

Beyond Victoriana is another blog celebrating multicultural steampunk. Its founding editor, Diana M. Pho, wrote the introduction for Steampunk World, an anthology published in 2014, and funded via Kickstarter. It contained stories from around the world, showcasing the diversity to be found. I'm eagerly awaiting the follow-up anthology, Steampunk Universe - also funded via Kickstarter. Stories highlight disabled and aneurotypical characters. Both have cover art by steampunk artist, James Ng.

The way we express steampunk is wide-ranging. Events range from family picnics, fundraising events and conventions to music events. Music style varies; rap, punk, folk, jazz, swing and rock are all represented in bands such as Professor Elemental, The Cog is Dead and The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing.

At a local level, we also have participants of varied educational and vocational backgrounds. Even the degree to which individuals experience steampunk is diverse. Some dip their toe in the genre by reading books, watching movies, listening to music or wearing costumes to the local convention. Others delve deeper - creating alternate personas and joining forums. Some immerse themselves, living the steampunk lifestyle to the full or embarking on steampunk-related careers.

For me, the diversity of those who enjoy steampunk is one of its attractions. Steampunk is inclusive. I can be myself, part of a welcoming and diverse community. And it has made my life richer as a result.