Chatting · Reading Recs

Book Review: The Steampunk User’s Manual

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!

Chatting · Writing Advice

The Blurry Line: Between the Developmental and the Copy Edits

Line editing is an often misunderstood and surprisingly nebulous stage of the writing process. To make sure we’re all on the same page in terms of vocabulary, I’ve copied a common definition:

A line editor is attentive to the writer’s individual style (for that reason, the job is sometimes called stylistic editing) A line editor works line-by-line, tightening up sentence structure so the language is sharp and clear. They look closely at how a writer’s word choice and syntax contribute to the tone or emotion of a piece of writing. Finally, a line editor is concerned with the overall pacing and logical flow of a piece… Where line editors are concerned primarily with questions of style, copy editors are concerned with mechanics.

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-line-editing

This description makes the process sound nice and linear. In fact, I fell into the same pattern when I wrote my earlier post on the complete start-to-end editing process for a manuscript, placing it after the beta-read, and before a professional copy edit. I thought of it as a dividing line between the unwieldy draft and the polished manuscript. I also wrote that post before I’d actually completed those editing stages on Storge. The information is still useful, albeit generic, and not pulled from personal experience. That’s why today I want to do a deep dive on just this one step, to clarify some of my older points and elaborate with my experience in editing Runaways.

The first thing to remember is that writers never obey definitions. After all, you have to know the rules so you can break them! The line editing stage is extremely nebulous at best. How long it takes and how many rounds you complete largely depends on the style and quality of your previous developmental edits, how long you’ve had to develop your writing style, if you’re comfortable in the mood and tone of the story you’re trying to tell, and your personality. Some people pay closer attention to details, others are impatient to fix issues as they arise and bounce between steps as needed. Both are totally valid ways to write.

When preparing a book to share with beta readers, eventually you reach a threshold where you have to decide “this is good enough.” In most cases, sharing the draft with readers means they will comment on the high-level issues with the story: all elements that fall under the developmental edit. Meticulously editing for style and tone could be a complete waste of time if your readers end up recommending that entire chapters need to be rewritten, reordered, or scrapped. However, if the prose is not polished enough, the clunky writing may be enough to distract the reader from the larger issues they should be focusing on, and diminish their enjoyment of the book as a whole. Most beta reader feedback is a combination of the two types, and so all the edits in between rounds of feedback become a combination of developmental and line editing. Once you get to a certain point in the story, the changes you need to make to things like the character arc or to clarify world-building are less in the form of scrapping-and-rewriting whole scenes, and more making subtle tweaks to word choice and sentence structure to convey a certain tone properly.

For a Runaways example, when Cecelia disappears in chapter 1, I wanted to portray the Teagan parents as good folks who are worried about their missing daughter, but trying to keep calm so they can find her, and keep Hannah from panicking. Most of my feedback said that the parents seemed too callous and unconcerned because a few lines of dialogue just hit off target. While that plot-point hasn’t changed, I altered the sentence-level structure so that Hannah perceives how her parents really feel and it adds to the growing tension of the inciting incident. Other scenes need to be rewritten completely in order to fix the pacing, such as the sequence of introducing Hannah to the Seelie Court. Some scenes are fine as they, but contain some clunky sentences, which my wonderful reader, Arva Bake, highlighted in yellow. This flagged the problem lines without changing the feedback on the story. Green highlight also told me where my delivery had an excellent impact, and red markup showed inconsistencies.

As I write the next draft, I’ll work my way through the feedback from the developmental to the line edits, before doing another round and starting the process again. In each new draft, my final step is to go through the prose with a fine-toothed comb and make the writing as clear and engaging as possible. This includes doing grammar and punctuation checks, which fall under the purview of a copy-edit. This is why I now refer to line edits as the blurry line between stages of the process. Resolving one issue often bleeds into polishing that section in other ways as well, and it’s impossible to draw a clean differentiation between them when you are doing edits yourself.

When both you and your beta readers are satisfied with the manuscript, then it is time to hire a professional editor, or several. When employing a professional, the distinctions between developmental, line, and copy editing DO matter. There’s often a significant difference in price tag for more intensive edits, and it’s recommended that you hire different people for each stage, to get fresh sets of eyes on the story with every change in focus. Understanding the difference between the three is important when discussing these terms in industry, and they provide us as authors with a helpful vocabulary to describe what elements of the story we’re focusing on when we self-edit. I hope this was a helpful guide for you!

If you found this post useful, please let me know what you think! Do you have any other questions about the editing process that I can answer? Next week, I’ll be travelling for a school conference, but I’m hoping to put up a short story for the Inklings Challenge! If the post is a few days late, that might be why. Catch me scribbling away on the plane while I don’t have any internet to distract me. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

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Chatting · Writing Advice

My Beta Reader Experience

Last week, I announced that I’m putting my novels on hiatus for the semester. In case you missed that post, I’ll recap here: I know this will delay my publishing goals significantly, as I wanted to release Runaways shortly after graduation, but I think ultimately this is the better choice for my mental health and the quality of the writing.

For one, I need more distance from the story before I can edit with a clear head, and without the self-imposed pressure to rush, I’ll do a better job of cleaning it up. I also need money to pay illustrators and editors, and if I can save up for a year with my Real Life Adult Engineering Job, I’ll be able to afford more detailed and a larger quantity of illustrations, as well as several rounds of rigorous editing. Additionally, I need to focus this semester on getting good grades, applications, and networking, so I can find a Real Life Adult Engineering Job, and that’s eating a significant portion of my time. With what little free time I have left, I want to spend it with my friends before we all scatter to the winds in May.

But I figured this is a good time as any to go over my beta reading process in the hopes that you can learn from my experience! If you missed it, I’ve also put together a post about my full editing process, but today and next week’s post will do a deeper dive into the steps. A beta reader is someone who’s not familiar with the story who volunteers to give you their honest opinion of the draft. While your critique partners, alpha readers, or Designated Writer Friends might already know all the plot twists (or helped you come up with the plot twists), generally speaking beta readers go in with the basic knowledge any reader would have if they picked it up at the library. They don’t have to be writers. In fact, it might be better to have some who aren’t writers and won’t be looking for the behind-the-scenes craft. Here’s how I went about this step of the writing process:

Continue reading “My Beta Reader Experience”
Chatting · Reading Recs

Nonfiction Notes: Newsletter Ninja

Overall Impression:

4 out of 5 stars: This book is for any writer who wants to learn more about the marketing side of the industry. You don’t have to have a book out yet. In fact, you should be reading this and implementing the advice before you publish so you can reap the benefits of having a mailing list. But regardless of where you are, if the idea of self promotion makes you want to curl up in a ball and die, or you’re trying to promote yourself and it’s not sticking, this book has useful advice. There’s not a ton of business jargon, so it’s accessible and a relatively quick read. One star deducted because it’s easier said than done to execute some of these tips, and in my experience, mailing list success simply comes down to luck and previous existing visibility, but it’s still a solid primer.

Content Summary:

Why you need a mailing list and what it needs to accomplish: If you have spent any amount of time throwing your work into the void of the internet you’ll know that persuading people to read your work is difficult. Convincing them to buy it is harder. The world is already so inundated by advertisements that people don’t want to see one more annoying self-promo, but that’s what it takes for people to realize you even have a book in the first place. The point of a mailing list is to cut out the middleman of social media or advertisement services and talk directly to people who will hopefully become your fans. People also tend to check their emails, or at least take them more seriously than social media posts, depending on your target audience, so if you can persuade someone to add one more to the top of their teetering inbox, you’ve already won their loyalty and readership on some small level.

How to pick a provider and set up an onboarding sequence: There are about a million provides out there to collect and store email addresses, and send out automated welcome sequences and scheduled campaigns. This part of the book walks you through the strategy of how to pick one that works for you, and what first steps to walk new members through before adding them to your regular list.

How to choose your target audience and convince people to sign up (hint: the answer is bribery): The target audience for your books is hypothetically the target audience for your mailing list, but as I mentioned before, nobody wants more emails cluttering up their inbox unless they’re really worth something valuable. You have to decide what you’re going to give them that’s worth that sacrifice.

What makes a good bribe? For authors, this is usually a short story or some other bookish merch, but whatever you offer, it should be exclusive, free, completed, and related to your other work. This section of the book gives you some ideas of how to offer “cookies” that will entice the right readers to sign up and stay signed up.

How to get people engage or re engaged: What do you write about? How often do you send out the emails? What are you putting in your subject line? Do you include images or emojis? Whether it’s an art or a science, every line of the email can influence whether someone clicks the links you include, deletes it immediately, or hits the unsubscribe button.

Final Thoughts

I read this book when I was first starting my mailing list over a year ago. Upon rereading it, I realized I had so much missed potential in the automation and landing forms I originally had set up, and immediately rehauled my entire system. I’m still offering the same thing (new short stories every 3 months), but now the onboarding process should be a lot more informative and seamless than it was before. I can highly recommend this book to any author who’s looking to improve their marketing, regardless of if you think you know all the tricks already. If you want to sign up for my Fancy! New! Improved! mailing list to get an audio drama of “Edge of Infinity” next week, you can register with this link. You can find Tammi Labrecque’s other books on her Goodreads, including a sequel to Newsletter Ninja called “If you give a reader a cookie.”


Thanks for reading! Do you have a newsletter? If so, drop a link in the comments and I’ll join up! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

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Chatting · Writing Advice

What I’ve Learned Writing Short Stories

Since launching my website, getting involved with the writeblr community, and starting my newsletter, I’ve tried my hand at quite a few short stories. They’re a completely different beast from novels, much less a series, and utilize a completely distinct skill set of storytelling tools. Today I’m sharing some of the tricks I’ve learned in my experience!

You can still outline – It just looks like a list of bullet points or one paragraph instead of a spreadsheet and a wall full of sticky notes. I find it useful to still have a plan going into the story, so even the bare bones of a character objective and obstacle can help structure the plot and keep it from running off an extra 3000 words, or running into the ground after two paragraphs.

Choose one thing to improve or experiment – In each of my stories, I’ve taken the opportunity to mess around with a particular aspect of the story, be it a strange POV, changing the tense, turning it to script form, playing with the alightment, color, font, and format of the text, or other such shenanigans. The nice thing about a short story is that you only have to commit to the bit for a few thousand words, rather than an entire book, and it takes a lot less time to revise. It’s like doing figure studies in art, or scales in music.

You often start In Medias Res – In short stories, there is rarely page-time for backstory or build-up. It’s crucial to jump straight into the action, and keep the narrative running at a steady pace. It’s a different story structure than you often find in full-length books, and so it’s interesting to explore a unique process of plot beats that might not line up with what you’re used to writing.

Explore different elements of your world – If you’re stuck with the plot of your main WIP, short stories are like writing fanfiction for your own book. Explore “deleted scenes” that you might not expect to make it into the final cut of the draft. Switch POV for a scene to a side character who doesn’t often get the spotlight. Explore an alternate universe to see if changing the setting leads to more interesting conflict. This is what I’ve been doing with the Runaways universe, to share lore about Seelie the girls don’t get to see.

Finishing smaller projects is a confidence booster – When you slog away at a giant WIP for years it can be easy to get discouraged and feel like you’ll never finish. If you’re anything like me, checking things off a list is supremely satisfying, and tinkering away can get exhausting when you look ahead and see no end in sight. Bashing through small works is a great way to revive motivation when you can see the checkmark within a week or two of setting out. Accumulating a nice backlog of works also means you have them to pull out and share at a moment’s notice, which is also great for getting immediate feedback, since people are more likely to read and finish a short story.

Treat it like a low-budget theater production – We don’t have time for set dressing! That costs words! You’re reusing the blue curtains whether you like it or not! What do you mean three side characters? Can’t we get away with Joe in a funny hat? Graphic descriptions of props and macguffins? That’s a nerf gun covered in masking tape and paint. It doesn’t need backstory. LIGHTS CAMERA ACTION!


Thank you for reading! Next week I’ll be sharing a review of Newsletter Ninja, so be sure to check back for that, or to leave a writing prompt in the comments. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

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Chatting · Reading Recs

Reading Rec: Survival Kit for Writers Who Don’t Write Right

Overall Impression

5/5 – Even though I’m absolutely not the target audience of this book, I still learned a lot.

Summary

Continue reading “Reading Rec: Survival Kit for Writers Who Don’t Write Right”
Chatting · Writing Advice

How to Finish What You Start

This video by Thomas Frank inspired this blog post. I highly recommend checking it out if you have the time! It’s generalized to any creative process, but I want to offer resources and exercises for authors to do to help us finish our WIPs! Many of these are tried-and-true methods for beating writer’s block, so let me know if you’ve tried them before, and how they work for you!

The Problem: Paralysis of Choice

Continue reading “How to Finish What You Start”
Chatting · Reading Recs

Book Review: 8 Steps to a Side Character

Overall Impression

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.

Continue reading “Book Review: 8 Steps to a Side Character”
Chatting · Writing Advice

6 Ways DnD Has Made Me A Better Writer

This is a random topic compared to my usual posts, but it’s one that’s been knocking around in my brain for a while. I’m currently in five campaigns (that meet with varying degrees of regularity), I’ve finished several one-shots and two long-running games, and have two more on deck for the summer, so I’ve had plenty of experience coming up with whacky characters and navigating the dilemmas that the DMs throw at as. I’ve only DMed a few times myself, but I am always in storytelling mode, so this was really just the natural result of exposure to the clicky-clacky-math-rocks. This is less focused on mechanics, and more geared toward player dynamics and character creation, but I hope you find it useful!

Continue reading “6 Ways DnD Has Made Me A Better Writer”
Chatting · Writing Advice

How To Write Siblings

(This is a republished version of a guide I wrote on Tumblr a while ago that many people seemed to write. I’m posting it here for the benefit of the wider blogging community and for ease of searching because tumblr’s tagging system is notoriously trash.)

There are a few key aspects of the family dynamic you’ll want to keep in mind that will influence how the different relationships form! Siblings can have such a complex relationship that becomes fascinating to see in larger families: they can be best friends and worst enemies, and it’s a criminally underrated dynamic in fiction. Speaking as someone with 4 younger siblings, I’m here today to show you how to build accurate and compelling relationships for your characters.

Continue reading “How To Write Siblings”