Bolly-Punk: The Dharian Affairs

After I read (or perhaps misread) a review of Susan Kaye Quinn’s Third Daughter which used the intriguing descriptive “Bolly-punk,” I bought the book expecting a romance set in an alternate Victorian India. It didn’t take Third Daughterme long, however, to realize that Dharia was not an alternate India, but an alternate world. The twin full moons on the second page were my first clue.

Mind you, I was delighted by the discovery that Third Daughter is in fact a science fiction novel (with a solid helping of romance that does not go beyond kisses), and a perfectly wonderful example of world building (there’s a map of Dharia and its neighbors on Quinn’s website). And then there were the pack animals that sounded rather like elephants—with six legs. And the matriarchal society, in which Dharia is always referred to as the Queendom.

The heroine, Aniri, is the Third Daughter of the Queen of Dharia, a few days away from her eighteenth birthday. Her sisters, the First and Second Daughters, have done their duty and married appropriately, freeing Aniri to follow her heart. That is, until the Queen asks her to consider a marriage, or at least an engagement, of convenience to Prince Ashora Malik, the heir to the barbarous northern country of Jungali, taking her on a mission to discover the truth behind rumors of a flying machine/weapon that might threaten the political status quo.

That’s right, a flying machine. Plus sword fighting automatons, long distance communicators, steam trains and ladies in corsets, tiny mechanisms, sabers, all sorts of steampunk technology. Aniri is a tough, self-reliant heroine. Ash and Jungali are not quite what Aniri has been led to expect, and old family secrets rise to the surface as she searches for the truth behind the rumors. And, by then end of the book, Aniri and Ash have discovered one more secret than they expected. The last line of the novel is a doozy!

Second DaughterI enjoyed Third Daughter immensely, and downloaded Second Daughter when it was released. I just pre-ordered First Daughter, which is scheduled to release on September 29.  More reviews to come.

RWA Conference: Saturday

Saturday was the last day of the conference, with thoughts of the trip home creeping in between the continuing activities.  On the way to my appointment with an agent, I stopped at the concierge desk to ask about airport shuttles, and the helpful young man who made a reservation for me also told me how much the hotel was enjoying our conference.  I suspect we left very little destruction in our wake.

After my appointment, I was once more  drawn as if by a giant magnet through the Goody Room, where I managed to pick up two more free books.  The tables of promotional giveaways adjoined a new feature of the conference, the Connect Lounge, a spread of round tables equipped with WiFi stations, evidently quite a success.  Whenever I went by the room was full of people chatting and using their computers.

On to a workshop presented by Sharon Sala, one of the nicest women I’ve met through RWA.  Her topic, When One Door Closes, was meant for published authors who’ve hit a road block or two, been orphaned when an editor moved on, had an agent retire or a publisher go broke.  I’m still waiting for that first door to open, but Sharon’s advice, starting with “never put all your eggs in one basket,” applies throughout a career.  Sharon writes for Mira Books, but she’s also ventured into indie publishing this year with A Field of Poppies (which I’ve just added to my ever-growing Kindle library).

On to another workshop, SOS for Writers, presented by Erin Quin, who discussed the mechanics of tracking and planning scenes.  By this time my head was positively swimming with good ideas and information, but I have to confess the individual workshops had begun to run together.  I’m looking forward to listening to them again on the conference recordings.

After the rehearsal for the awards ceremony (we all walked across the stage and promounced our names into the microphone), I managed to fit in one last wrokshop, one I had been particularly looking forward to, From Aether to Zeppelin: Writing the Steampunk Romance, presented by Suzanne Lazear, Theresa Meyers, and Cindy Holby, three of the ladies of STEAMED, a blog I have been following for a while now.  I’m not planning to write a Steampunk novel myself, not just now, anyway, but I’m fascinated by the ideas and the alternate world environment.

On the way back to my room with a roast beef sandwich and a bottled frappucino from Starbuck’s, I stopped to print out my boarding pass on the courtesy computer in the lobby.  Then I spent some quiet time reading on the patio between my room and the pool.

About 6:30, dressed for the Big Party, I met the rest of the West Houston delegation in the lobby bar.  Rita nominees Vicky Dreiling, Deeanne Gist, and Linda Warren joined us, along with Karen Burns, Julie Pitzel, Lark Howard, and Sarah Andre.  Sarah, a Golden Heart finalist last year, was my “date” for the awards ceremony, where we sat up front at the VIP tables.  The ceremony was great fun, with clips from all our favorite romance movies, funny presenters and even funnier acceptance speeches, and two standing ovations for Lifetime Achievement honoree Brenda Jackson.

My Golden Heart category, Paranormal Romance, was first on the list, so as soon as that was awarded to my tablemate and friend Lorenda Christensen, I could relax and enjoy the show.  (You can see the complete list HERE.)  No one from West Houston won this year, but we all felt like winners.

After the awards ceremony, the Firebirds gathered one last time at the First Annual AfterParty thrown by Samhain Publishing for all the Rita and Golden Heart finalists and their guests.  Wine, cheese, fruit, desserts, and loud rock music–how better to end the 2012 Romance Writers of America® Conference?

I’m not planning to attend the 2013 Conference next July in Atlanta.  Unless, of course, I have a Really Good Reason to go.

The Steampunk Bible

A few weeks ago when I was shopping at the Science Fiction Book Club, I stumbled across The Steampunk Bible, by Jeff Vandermeer and S. J. Chambers, and since the club was running a “buy two books, get a third for $1.99” offer, I popped it into my order. 

I bought the book hoping to expand my knowledge of the Steampunk subgenre which has spread from science fiction into romance and beyond in recent years, but I was surprised to see how much more there is to Steampunk.  I had no idea.  The gorgeous illustrations cover everything from fashion to music, jewelry to computers, and art in more varieties than one can count, from pocket watches to lifesize mechanical elephants.

Vandermeer discusses the forefathers of Steampunk, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, as well as some lesser known nineteenth century writers (such as the author of “Electric Bob’s Big Black Ostrich,” wonderfully illustrated on the cover of an 1893 issue of the New York Five Cent Library).  The modern genre began in the 1980s with Gibson and Stirling’s The Difference Engine (a copy resides on my keeper shelf), faded away for a while, and returned in the twenty-first century, wandering through novels both graphic and traditional, Japanese animated films, and art of all sorts.  Vandermeer gives an interesting, if necessarily brief, survey of the Steampunk subgenres and variations.

Even Hollywood has gotten into the act, or onto the steam-powered train.  I was delighted to see one of my favorite shows from the 1960s, The Wild, Wild West, categorized as Steampunk (the less said about the 1999 movie version the better).  So too is a current favorite, Warehouse 13.   Many of the movies Vandermeer cites are Japanese animation; he seems less impressed with the Hollywood attempts.

All in all I found The Steampunk Bible interesting, wide ranging, and beautifully illustrated.  Without it I would never have known that dedicated artisans like Jake von Slatt of Datamancer.net actually make (and sell!) beautiful (and working!) contructs like this:

Steampunk Computer by Datamancer

Recent Reading

I continue to buy books faster than I can read them (that’s material for another post), but I’ve managed to finish a few in the last month or so.  About ten days ago my ancient air conditioning system died, resulting in an unexpected day off (and a very large replacement bill).  While men crawled around my attic with power tools, I sat on the couch and read Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen, a fascinating and thoroughly readable book.  I finished it with a new respect for the quiet, dedicated and very competent way Elizabeth II has played the hand she was dealt, and more than a glimpse of the woman under the crown.

Also in non-fiction, I enjoyed Ghosty Men: The Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers, New York’s Greatest Hoarders, An Urban Historical, by Franz Lidz, which I downloaded one day when it was the Amazon special.  Lidz mixes the story of the famous Collyer Brothers with that of his own Uncle Arthur in a short book with a long title.

My craft-of-writing read this month was also on my Kindle, Holly Lisle’s Mugging the Muse.  I reviewed it for the Houston Bay Area RWA newsletter here.

I’m delighted to report that Amanda Stevens’ The Kingdom is every bit as good as the first Graveyard Queen novel, The Restorer.  This one takes Amelia to the dying town of Asher Falls and a whole new cast of characters, and away from Charleston and John Devlin, but she returns to both in the next installment, The Prophet, which is waiting near the top of my To Be Read pile.

On a much lighter note, I thoroughly enjoyed Elaine Viets’ latest Dead End Jobs mystery, Final Sail.  I’ve followed Helen Hawthorne’s adventures since she first went on the run from her greedy ex-husband in Shop Til You Drop (2003), so she and the other denizens of the Coronado apartments are old friends.  In this outing Helen works for an exhausting week as a stewardess on a private yacht, while her husband and detecting partner Phil poses as several different people to investigate a possible murder.

Last night I finished reading Zoe Archer’s Skies of Fire, the first in a new Steampunk series, The Ether Chronicles.  Airships, big explosions, the fate of the British Empire at stake, and a hot romance.  What more could a lover of action, adventure, and alternate history ask for?  This was the first recent Steampunk novel I’ve read, although I still have a copy of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine (1990) on my keeper shelf.  I also have several new Steampunk volumes on my TBR shelves, and on the coffee table (you definitely want this one on paper!) Jeff Vandermeer’s The Steampunk Bible, a gorgeously illustrated book in which literature seems to be something of an afterthought.   This is a subgenre that interests me as a reader, and perhaps as a writer, but that needs more exploration.

What have you been reading lately?