Synopsis: Steampunk, the retro-futuristic cultural movement, has become a substantial and permanent genre in the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. A large part of its appeal is that, at its core, Steampunk is about doing it yourself: building on the past while also innovating and creating something original. VanderMeer’s latest book offers practical and inspirational guidance for readers to find their individual path into this realm. Including sections on art, fashion, architecture, crafts, music, performance, and storytelling, The Steampunk User’s Manual provides a conceptual how-to guide that motivates and awes both the armchair enthusiast and the committed creator. Examples range from the utterly doable to the completely over-the-top, encouraging participation and imagination at all levels.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars – Not what’s advertised, but still a good read.
I picked up this book at a Renaissance fair, in preparation for running a Treasure Planet inspired DnD Planescape campaign. I was hoping for a history of the steampunk genre and a primer on the main tropes, cliches, and foundational works of the movement. As an engineer who works at a maker space. I was also hoping it would live up to its self-proclaimed title as a “how-to guide” full of projects. Shame on me for not reading it more thoroughly in the shop, but I flipped through the pages full of bright, glossy photographs, and marched to the front counter without a second thought.
Don’t get me wrong – this book partially covers those topics, and I quite enjoyed those parts. But this book, in truth, is a collection of interviews with artists, musicians, authors, performers, and costumers talking about their craft and their relationship to the concept of “steampunk.” You can learn a lot from reading about their process and if a certain piece of work catches your eye, you can check out their work to learn more. It’s a convenient multimedia collection, best suited for a coffee table, not a textbook.
That being said, this is a delightful picture book full of oddities and curiosities of all kinds and I had a really fun time reading through it all the same. The most interesting aspect of the “steampunk” genre, at least to me, is the broad spectrum of opinions regarding “practicality.” On one hand, it’s an aesthetic, with form prioritized over function, and the look attracts many people to the subculture. It’s supposed to be fun and undermine convention, and if it’s impractical, then that’s all the better, right? But it’s also inspired by real steam-powered technology, and vintage sci-fi dreams of submarines and airships. Aren’t the glued-on gears a cliche, completely defeating the purpose of moving, ticking, living clockwork? Or is the stationary adhesive saying something profound about societal systems? It’s an interesting question I hadn’t really considered before, and while my intro can probably tell you which side of the isle I fall on (as I slowly push the “science is art and art is science and both are magic” soapbox away), I still appreciated the opportunity to read the alternative perspectives.
The book is separated into chapters based loosely on artistic medium: Art and Making; Fashion, Architecture, and Interiors; Storytelling; and Music and Performance. Each chapter has sections on finding inspiration with tips from creators of that type, various interviews, advice on developing your skills, a DIY project or two, and some essays on the philosophy of Steampunk. You do not need to read these in order or in their completeness to enjoy the book, but as a whole, it gives a comprehensive summary of the current genre as it existed in 2014 when the book was published. I would be curious to see a 2nd edition, talking about how the genre has developed in almost a decade. When I was 13, my parents still used flip phones, and I was strictly forbidden from touching social media, except educational YouTube videos. I can only imagine how much the boom of the internet has changed the community, with creators being able to make a living for themselves from Instagram, self-publishing breaking down the gatekeepers in the literary world, and the pandemic fundamentally shaking up how live performances were done. I am also curious to see how the themes of steampunk have reacted to current and developing issues of digital privacy and the pervasive role that technology plays in our world today, especially in the Zoomer generation.
All in all, I’m glad I read this, and it informed me about a genre I’ve been interested in exploring for quite a while. If nothing elese, it’s a fantastic well of inspiration for interesting tangents and trains of thought.
Thanks for reading! Are you involved in the Steampunk Community? What are your thoughts? I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
Twin sisters, both on the run, but different as day and night. One, a professional rogue, searches for a fabled treasure; the other, a changeling, searches for the truth behind her origins, trying to find a place to fit in with the realm of fae who made her and the humans who shun her.
Iselia “Seelie” Graygrove looks just like her twin, Isolde… but as an autistic changeling trying to navigate her unpredictable magic, Seelie finds it more difficult to fit in with the humans around her. When Seelie and Isolde are caught up in a heist gone wrong and make some unexpected allies, they find themselves unraveling a larger mystery that has its roots in the history of humans and fae alike.
Both sisters soon discover that the secrets of the faeries may be more valuable than any pile of gold and jewels. But can Seelie harness her magic in time to protect her sister, and herself?
5/5 Stars: I would like to adopt Seelie and give her a hug right now please and thank you
I’ve been looking forward to this book for months and it did not disappoint. The world is so rich and believable. It’s an enticing blend of whimsical and terrifying, grounded in a very familiar reality but full of fantastical elements that weave naturally with the mundane. I also really enjoyed the portrayal of the Seelie and Unseelie courts. I’ve been a fairytale and folklore nerd since I was a kid, and it’s always fascinating to see how other authors handle the established customs and lore while creating their own unique story, and Ivelisse Housman does it very well, especially juxtaposing the perception of each realm against the protagonist, Seelie, herself.
The characters are what make this story so memorable and lovely. Seelie is an autistic changeling with overwhelming magic – but in a story where the word “autistic” doesn’t exist – Housman has to show just what that means through her 1st person perspective. Throughout the book, people treat Seelie’s awkwardness, struggles, and general weirdness as nothing more than a part of her being a changeling. They expect her to be odd. People assume all changelings are odd. But that’s not necessarily true – she’s autistic, AND a changeling, and those two traits are a big part of her personality and identity that interact, but they aren’t the same thing, and that’s important.
Not to get too personal, since I’m not officially diagnosed as autistic idk how much of a right I have to claim this representation for myself, but I don’t know if I’ve ever read something so relatable, except for maybe Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time. I was homeschooled through 8th grade, and when I went to public high school, everyone, including myself, attributed my awkwardness to that upbringing. Society expects homeschoolers to have odd mannerisms, even though I had I had plenty of opportunities to socialize with other kids through clubs and field trips. But even with four years of “real school” and college, I still have odd mannerisms, and weird hobbies, and social awkwardness in spades. It’s only through reading about the community of late-diagnosed autistic people, and especially women, that I’ve learned the vocabular to describe my experience. Reading Seelie’s perspective felt so fundamentally familiar to my experience in so many ways: being the odd one out and not knowing why, not having the language to explain sensory overwhelm, or meltdowns, or special interests, or stimming.
She makes mistakes, she’s sometimes obnoxious and immature and stubborn, like any overwhelmed teenager, but she’s also brave, and clever, and the hero of her own story. She’s an inspiration, and I cannot wait to see how she continues to develop in the next book. I also think I’ve found my next cosplay. When I unpackaged the book, my mother did a double-take and asked, “Is that you?” and she’s… not wrong. I could do Isolde easily with my hair’s current length, and I plan to grow it out again to match Seelie’s.
I also can’t talk about Seelie without mentioning her twin Isolde. I am desperate to know what’s going on inside her head, she is such an interesting character in her own right, and we only see her from Seelie’s perspective. I would love a short story or companion novel or something in her POV in the future. I love the bond the two of them have together, and the sweet domestic scenes with Birch in the Destiny were some of my favorite ones in the novel. Likewise, their arguments were the most heart wrenching ones.
The supporting cast is also excellent. Raze manages to be insufferable and likeable, which is high praise. Usually if a character is too annoying I’ll simply skim any parts with them, but I stayed invested whenever he was on the page, and grew to like him alongside Seelie. I loved his banter and friendship with Olani, and the way the duo serves as foils to the sisters. The friendship between Olani and Isolde reminds me of the phrase “as Iron sharpens Iron” – two strong women making each other better fighters, and better people in turn. Leira is an intimidating villain, and I’m both fascinated and terrified by what Gossamer is scheming and what it means for the world at large.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for an interview with the author, Ivelisse Housman, about the writing process for this book! In the meantime, I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
I hit burnout last year, and I hit it hard. Over the summer, I desperately wanted to finish the 3rd draft of runaways, but struggled to muster the energy and focus needed to even read through the document. During NaNoWriMo, I got back into editing, but I treated it like another assignment. Words got done more because of willpower than because of inspiration because I was already in that crunch time mental state. In the process of writing the largest of the developmental changes, I realized this book probably needs two more POVs than I originally anticipated, turning it into a much larger and more complex project, and bringing with it a sense of dread that I will never finish, never publish, and never have anything to show for this work. Looking ahead at the year, seeing so much traveling, moving, graduating, starting a new job, and other major life upheavals, I’m already exhausted just glancing over the calendar.
I’ve hit writer’s block now, too. Travelling to visit my grandparents over break, I had to be in the car for a grand total of 10 hours round trip. I should have been fully awake, undistracted by the internet, and immensely productive, as I’ve been in years past. The objective: finish, edit, and post a new short story for my mailing list about a sorceress who stole the sun, and the seamstress that brought it back. Despite having a rough outline for the story, and inspiration aplenty, I hit a wall of creative block trying to make the lore consistent, then the words wouldn’t come when I tried to force myself to focus on the blank page, and I managed a total of 90 words. Pathetic.
The worst part is: I know exactly what caused this problem, and how to fix it, but I haven’t let myself do what I need to fix the problem.
Burnout happens when you over-commit and work yourself too hard for too long without breaks. It’s very easy to trap yourself in a cycle of “Oh, I’m so behind, if I only work harder, I can take a break.” But working harder only makes you more burnt out, more inefficient, and more behind, and so the vicious cycle continues. For me, this build-up occurs most frequently during the semester, and then I promptly get sick as soon as finals are over. But a side effect is this: in my shreds of free time, I refuse to rest. I spend so much time being an engineer that when I have the opportunity to work on my creative pursuits, I prioritize creating, instead of sitting down to do the things that refresh my creative well. I brag about how I go months without turning on the TV. I only read by listening to audiobooks on my commute to work, or while doing tedious lab tests, which means I work through my TBR at an astonishingly slow pace. And even there – I naturally refer to reading as “work” and talk about my “pace” as if I’m on an assembly line, and not as if its an activity I love, that inspires me, and makes up part of my identity.
You need to breathe in to breathe out.
I got so caught up in telling stories that I forgot what inspired me to write in the first place. I was a bookworm as a kid. Mom punished me, not by restricting access to the TV or video games, but by hiding my books out of reach and confiscating the flashlight. I’m struggling to put words to page because I’ve forgotten how to string together eloquent prose in the torrent of academic papers written in past test passive voice. I used to scoff at boring adults who never frequented the library, but as an adult, I’ve found myself daunted by the idea of setting aside so much time to finish the books I check out between visits. But I miss that and I need to make it a priority again—not only because reading books is something I *should* do, but because it’s something I *want* to do.
I’ve been holding my breath, and this year, I ran out of air.
The first year I ran this blog, I was pretty good about having a reading rec post on a monthly basis, which meant I read or reread at least 12 things a year, but I’ve fallen out of the habit. This year, I’ll be bringing back that post format, as well as author biographies, because as writers, I think it’s important to know about the people behind our favorite stories. History is a special interest of mine, and so I think it would be an interesting exercise to research more about the literary movements and influences that came before, and how learning more about the past can help us contextualize our fiction in terms of the present, and the future. If there are any English majors out there laughing at me, please understand my brain has been thoroughly fried by four years of differential equations and I’m sure you’ve noticed the atrocious amount of passive voice past tense grammar leaking into my prose from the lab reports.
Let’s talk about prose too. I’ve never been one to worry much about my writing style. As a beginner, I read that there’s no way to force a particular style into your writing and that one would develop with time and practice. In my experience, this is true, and when you’re just trying to reach The End on your first manuscript, getting words down is more important that fretting about eloquence. I’m not on first drafts anymore, though. All my projects are in various stages of editing, and in line editing, sentences matter. They’re the brushstrokes that make up the whole painting. The ingredients that make up the layers in a decadent cake, or the richness of the flavor in a savory meal. The prose you consume will bleed into your style, and the publishing industry holds genres to certain standards. This is why it’s important to read both a broad variety of topics and authors to expose yourself to many styles and voices, and why it’s important to read in your target genre, to understand the conventional expectations.
I can’t tell an entertaining story if the only thing I’m reading is academic papers. It’s impossible to prepare a banquet with the literary equivalents of hardtack. (I should also probably knock it off with the food metaphors and go make myself dinner.)
ANYHOW. Onto the part of the post you probably care about:
Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman: This book is one I preordered months ago and I’ve actually already finished it. I really enjoyed this story and it totally lived up to the hype, so stay tuned for a full review and an interview with the author!!!
Pyreflies by Lynette Bacon-Nguyen: This is an ARC from an author in one of my fandom discord servers and next up on the reading list! You can also expect a review on this blog soon.
Howl by Katie Koontz: This is a werewolf novel by one of my best friends on tumblr and I know she’s been working really hard on it so I’m excited to read the finished version after seeing so many snippets on her blog!
Other People’s Heartache by Vanessa Roades: This author is a friend of mine on Instagram and I’ve had it sitting around in my email for a WHILE now as I signed up for a bunch of newsletters all around the same time for the free stories. I’m intrigued by the premise and need to get around to catching up on the backlog of ebooks I have downloaded!
The Brandon Sanderson Secret Novels: If you follow publishing news in the fantasy spaces, you’re probably familiar with BrandoSandos insane quarantine hobby and mind-boggling Kickstarter from last year. If you don’t know the backstory, this prolific author of the Mistborn Trilogy and the Stormlight Archive used to travel 1/3 of the time pre-lockdown, which severely cut into his writing time, and when COVID struck in 2020, he just… casually wrote an extra five books in his newly acquired free time. He started a Kickstarter to have them published in A Year of Sanderson, putting out the books every quarter, along with lots of exclusive merch and subscription boxes, which immediately broke the record for the fastest funded campaign and the record for the most amount of money ever raised on Kickstarter EVER. He donated a lot of this money to other publishing kickstarters as a way of giving back to the community, and continued putting out the regularly scheduled books, like a glorious madman, and the first of these secret novels released on January 1st. I’m already behind on the rest of the Cosmere, but what’s another stack of books on the list I guess?
Short Stories from the Tor Newsletter: Brandon Sanderson’s publisher puts out a newsletter on a regular basis that always contains a number of interesting articles about the industry and fantasy news, as well as an original short story from one of their authors. I discovered that these are a fantastic easy way to fill up your Goodreads book goal with fast reads, and they’re in a genre that I really enjoy, so they’re a solid option for quick commutes on the bus, or between study breaks at school. I have links to them saved so I can go back to the ones I miss, and I want to keep up with them this year to discover new authors and continuously read short fiction so I learn more about how to write those types of stories!
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett: I’ve wanted to get into the Discworld series for ages, and I’ve read Mort already, but haven’t been able to find many of the books. One of my best friends was moving house earlier this year and didn’t want her copy, so she let me steal it, and I’m determined to get through some of the unread physical books sitting on my shelf lol
Way Too Many Email Substacks: Back when Dracula Daily was consistently trending #1 on tumblr, a bunch of lovely people set up email substacks for other classic works of literature, and I, full of hubris, subscribed to ALL of them. I’m now several weeks behind on Great Expecations, A Study in Scarlett, Moby Dick, Les Mis, and a modern fantasy story that’s also being done in a serialized format called “Last Light” by A. Lawrence. I’m determined to binge read the archive to catch up and then stay caught up, preferably before the substacks actually end.
Thanks for reading! What are your TBRs for the year? I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
I owe a lot to Brandon Sanderson. In the summer of 2020, I was three years deep into the worst reading-slump of my life, struggling with anxiety and depression thanks to a combination of university stress, the pandemic, a full-time laboratory job, and living away from home in a strange dead city. My writing was struggling due to lack of time and input to fill up my creative well. I don’t remember a lot of that spring, except that it felt like my head was constantly full of mist.
I had no idea how much my life would change when I picked up an audiobook of The Way of Kings to help pass the hours doing tedious sample prep. The story of my writing community starts here, two years ago, since it was the same summer I started this website. I owe my eternal thanks to Quinn Siarven for both the excellent book recommendation and moral support for the past several years ❤ Kaladin’s ideals got me through that year, and the next, and the next, as I fell deeper into the Cosmere:
I picked up the audiobook of The Final Empire this past summer, at another lab job, doing boring sample prep again, and immediately grew attached to Vin’s character. I wish I had picked up this book in high school, because I relate to this awkward, intense teen altogether too much. Reading about her struggles was like reading about my slightly younger self, and I want to scoop her up in a hug. It also shocked me just how many of my OCs are incredibly similar to Vin, carrying paranoia, too much trauma, great skill, and grander callings on their young shoulders.
Beyond that, The Final Empire is also just so much fun?? As much as post-apocalyptic hell-scapes can be fun, that is. Kelsier brings such an entertaining energy to the page, and his beacon of hope resonated with those deeper themes that have always been the source of my love for these series. The “learning to fly” scenes are always my favorite, since I’ve been a little kid I’ve always dreamed of taking off into the wild blue yonder and leaving my problems behind, and there’s no small part of wish fulfillment in this costume bringing me a little closer to launching myself into the sky. The dynamics with the rest of the crew are so wholesome, and Sazed was my favorite by far.
You can’t talk about a Sanderson book without touching on the magic systems and worldbuilding. The planet of Scadriel works on three sets of rules: Allomancy, Feurochemy, and Hemalurgy, all of which play crucial roles in the plot and weave together with the characters to tie them into a prophecy much bigger than themselves. It’s an intricately crafted world full of history as multifaceted as our own world. I loved how many religions are described, because that’s a part of worldbuilding that I often see glossed over, but personally find very interesting, and the discussions of faith and hope are intrinsically woven into the character’s arcs in a way that feels fundamentally natural to how we as humans constantly wonder about why we’re here.
“The right belief is like a good cloak, I think. If it fits you well, it keeps you warm and safe. The wrong fit however, can suffocate.”
“But you can’t kill me, Lord Tyrant. I represent that one thing you’ve never been able to kill, no matter how hard you try. I am hope.”
“Our belief is often strongest when it should be weakest. That is the nature of hope.”
It goes without saying that I wholeheartedly recommend these books, and I was thrilled to take on a cosplay for Vin. In the future, I’d love to cover other characters from Sanderson’s worlds – perhaps Veil or Vivenna will be up on the list! What’s your favorite Cosmere book? As much as I love the Mistborn trilogy, I have a soft spot for Words of Radiance and how the relationships between Kaladin, the Kholinars, and Shallan all grow and evolve. Maybe I’ll actually get caught up on Sanderson’s books by the time Stormlight 5 comes out, and I’m looking forward to the secret novels next year!
Next week I’ll be sharing the full process of creating the cloak and how the community I’ve found at school helped me finish such a large project, so check back for that! As always, I am open to suggestion if you have a topic you’d like to see covered! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing (and other creative endeavors) by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
Make a one-time donation
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Thank you for supporting my writing and publishing endeavors!
Happy Halloween! This month I wanted to share a horror-fantasy reading-rec, and this is a book I’ve wanted to cover since I read it last year in one sitting the night before an exam. House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland is a thrilling combination of fantastical and terrifying and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a creepy autumn read, or looking to improve the mood and ambience of their prose!
Warnings ahead for suicide, manipulation, body horror, and general discussions of death and horrific topics, so if that bothers you, reader discretion is advised. This book is written for a YA audience.
Today I’m pleased to introduce you to R.K. Ashwick, one of my long-time friends on writeblr and the author of The Stray Spirit which I reviewed last week, thanks to an advanced reader copy. RK writes character-focused fantasy books with a cozy feel. I’m thrilled to have her on my blog today to talk about her upcoming release and publishing journey! This was such a fun interview and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed conducting it!
Welcome! Let’s start off at the beginning: How did you come up with the concept for The Stray Spirit?
There are very few things in this world as satisfying as reading a book – A REAL ACTUAL PUBLISHED BOOK – by one of my writer friends. I am unbelievably proud of our very own, one and only, R.K. Ashwick for reaching this amazing milestone! I’ve been following its development through the taglist on tumblr for… I don’t know, maybe over a year now? It’s been truly gratifying to watch the characters and story grow (hah), and I am absolutely overjoyed that come August, I’ll be able to hold it in my hands. The following review is my honest opinion, which I promised to share after receiving an advanced reader copy of the book. I’m going to keep this mostly spoiler free because it hasn’t come out yet, though in the future I may write a spoilers-filled review as well, so I can freely dig into all the interesting bits of this book. So without further ado…
5/5 craft book with an easily accessible style that gave my poor frazzled engineering brain a much needed break from academic drivel, extremely useful summaries that made writing his article about 1,000,000x easier, and rock solid advice I will immedietly be adapting into my ever-expanding Storge excel outline.
Hello everyone and welcome back to another reading rec! This month I want to talk about an author that I’ve enjoyed for quite a while now: Faye Fite. I found her blog back in high school when she still wrote under her other name, and the perspective she shared in her writing advice inspired me to get serious about my writing. Her books introduced me to the indie publishing space and the worlds of possibilities that open when you can control the content of your stories. Faye writes Christian speculative fiction that isn’t preachy and features badass disabled characters.
The Terebinth Tree Chronicles is a series of high fantasy short stories that share the backstories of Wanderer, Jayel, and Ailith – the future protagonists of an epic who are on a mission to assassinate the dark lord that’s plagued their world and ruined their families. Currently, three books have been released in this series: Colors of Fear, Flames of Courage, and Sounds of Deceit, but there are more on the way! Faye also has a few standalone books, including Skies of Dripping Gold, and So I Accidentally Killed the Chosen One, which are both part of the same expanded story-world as the Terebinth Tree Chronicles, called the “Torn Universe.” I’m not sure how they all connect yet, but it’s a really cool concept! Faye is also a member of the Phoenix Fiction Writers, and has published three short stories in their anthologies.
I can wholeheartedly recommend all of her writing, but today I especially want to focus on the characters in the Chronicles and how their arcs are set up to have satisfying conclusions within each backstory book, but leave enough open-ended questions for the rest of the series to continue building.