The Affair of the Necklace

I recently met a few friends in Fuquay-Varina, NC (still one of the coolest town names ever) for the weekend.  That Saturday was Drew Williams’ signing at the Lazy Lion (where I scored a lovely signed copy of his new book The Corruptor…do you have your copy yet?)

We didn’t want to crowd Drew, so we browsed through the store a bit, like the hungry bibliophiles we are, and when the manager got sick of us we popped out to explore the quaint little burg that is Fuquay-Varina. We stopped in to Stick Boy Bread Company first and got some smoothies. I had a divine cookie called something like a Hootenany (it doesn’t appear to be listed on their website) with oatmeal and cranberries and pecans and fairy dust mixed in.

After that, Rhonda and Joe and I split off from the group and headed down the street to gawk through shop windows down Main Street. Enticed by a VERY enthusiastic dancing ice cream come, we sought respite from the heat in an indoor mall — not like a big-bucks-anchor-store mall, but one of those minimalls where you’d find booths of Antique dealers. Only these little independent shops dealt in custom birdhouses, vintage clothing, shoes, and some awesome jewelry. As cute as the dancing ice cream was, we were put off by the overly-zealous woman trying to hawk her apple cider, and shifted further into the bowels of the mall.

Joe pulled me back to one kiosk (that was far too close to the cider woman for my taste) to check out some jewelry he thought I’d like. I certainly liked the Victorian-dressed doll with wires for hands she was using as a necklace-display, and I coveted it. The woman behind the counter, who was in the middle of telling another woman how she hand-makes all her beads, stopped long enough to tell me where in town I might find something similar. I thanked her and let her continue on her spiel while I half-heartedly browsed. I wasn’t really trying to find anything, so I wasn’t really looking. I wasn’t really looking until I saw an old-fashioned key through a glass bead filled with roses at the same time a voice above me said, “Do you know what steampunk is?”

I looked up at the woman with a sparkle in my eye and said, “You are talking to the right person.” And then I started to examine–really, truly examine–the jewelry, and it took my breath away.

Marilyn–for the shopkeeper was indeed the artist herself–returned the sparkle and began to do that whole artist thing where you start explaining to someone what went into a piece, what elements you used, and what you were trying to achieve. We both got excited and a little carried away, and we probably drove Rhonda and Joe both nuts, but I didn’t care. Her designs were EXQUISITE. And regardless of whether or not she jumped on the Steampunk bandwagon, the movement is right up her alley. Marilyn has the Victorian sensibility to make her PERFECT for this kind of work. She went on to tell me that she gives classes on how to make glass beads. This was one thing about Fuquay-Varina I adored: from coffee roasting to stained-glass work, almost every single store gives a class on SOMETHING. I wanted to stay for a week or two, just to take them all. I definitely took a card, and promised that I would check out Marilyn’s website. She has some glass bead tutorials there, and a myriad of other things to peek through and find. She also has an Etsy shop (though there are no Steampunk items currently for sale there) and a place at 1000 Markets (there is currently a Steampunk ring there for less than $40. You better snap it up before I do.)

The best way to see the Peraza Beads merchandise, of course, is to visit the shop in Fuquay-Varina, if you can. Tell Marilyn I said hello. And be sure to pick up a piece or three while her artwork is still affordable. I got the cross-and-rose necklace at the top, of course. I couldn’t resist the handmade chain, or the fact that the center stone of the cross was a garnet — my birthstone. And Marilyn’s…and Rhonda’s daughter. We’re all just a bunch of stinking Capricorns.

But boy do we make gorgeous art.

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Steampunk in Sepia

Last week was the first annual Steampunk World’s Fair, held in Piscataway, New Jersey. I so, so, so wish I could have gone. Luckily, my Best Beloved peeps Leanna Renee Hieber and Stephen Segal were there to represent. Leanna posted the link to a gorgeous convention album by photographer Tony Romeo called “Steampunk in Sepia.” Because, really, what else would Steampunk should be shot in?

Lovely Leanna. There is mischief in those eyes…

And since you asked: Why, yes, I do have a sepia steampunk portrait of my own — it was taken for the Clockwork Jungle issue of Shimmer. (Courtesy of Steven Gould)

Where’s your steampunk pic?

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The Clockwork Jungle Book

I’m honored to be part of the newest issue of Shimmer magazine: The Clockwork Jungle Book. Inside are twenty fabulous steampunk fables by some of the hottest names in SF:

Shedding Skin; Or How the World Came to Be, by Jay Lake
The Jackdaw’s Wife, by Blake Hutchins
The Student and the Rats, by Jess Nevins
The Mechanical Aviary of Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar, by Shweta Narayan
Kay’s Box, by Marissa Lingen
Otto’s Elephant, by Vince Pendergast
The Monkey and the Butterfly, by Susannah Mandel
Message in a Bottle, by James Maxey
The Clockwork Cat’s Escape, by Gwynne Garfinkle
The Wolf and the Schoolmaster, by James L. Cambias
A Garden in Bloom, by Genevieve Valentine
And How His Audit Stands, by Lou Anders
The Story In Which Dog Dies, by Sara Genge
A Red One Cannot See, by Barbara A. Barnett
The Fishbowl, by Amal El-Mohtar
His Majesty’s Menagerie, by Chris Roberson
The Emperor’s Gift, by Rajan Khanna
The Clockwork Goat and the Smokestack Magi, by Peter M. Ball
The Giant and the Unicorn, by Alethea Kontis
Mockmouse, by Caleb Wilson

An excerpt from “The Giant & The Unicorn”:

In the beginning, the Toymaker fashioned the Box. In the second year, he scattered his power throughout the Box and made the heaves and the stars. In the third year he cast the cogs and wheels, the grasses and the trees. In the fourth year he formed the animals: the bear, the fox, the dragon, the griffin, the monkey, and the unicorn. In the fifth year he forged the Giant, in his own image, so that the Giant might rule and maintain peace over this great land. In the sixth year he uploaded Sentience and Symbiotics; he breathed life into his creations and set them free. He looked down upon his work and knew it was good.

In the seventh year, spent from his task, the Toymaker lay down and died…

Purchase your copy of The Clockwork Jungle Book in hard or electronic copy at the Shimmer website.

Also check out the fun interview I did with Anne for the issue! Find out which dead authors I would love to talk to, what authors I wish I could write like, things I wish for my characters, some writerly advice, and a whole section about things I do that no one ever asks about.

And soon there will be an audio version of the story available, read & acted by yours truly (I had SO MUCH FUN), so watch this space for more info!

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Genre Chick Interview: Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest is a displaced Tennessee Gal–she may live in Seattle now, but she was born & raised in the South, so we still claim her as one of our own. Similarly, the setting for her new steampunk novel Boneshaker is the Pacific Northwest, as opposed to the Southern settings of Four and Twenty Blackbirds and Fathom (Tennessee and Florida, respectively). We’re also super excited about Cherie’s new ventures in the shared world of the Wild Cards series, edited by George R.R. Martin. I saw Cherie recently at Penguicon in Detroit–she’s a beauty, a ball of energy, and looks great in costume. I took the opportunity to open her skull and pick her brains a bit, just to see what makes her tick. You know…like I usually do.

Corsets and Goggles and Superheroes, oh my!

Alethea Kontis: What’s the most difficult part of a steampunk costume?
Cherie Priest: Integrating color. My friend Jess Nevins says that steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown, and he’s at least partially right–but the Victorians loved loud, tacky color, and so do I.  And although I appreciate a good charcoal outfit that sucks up all the light in the room, sometimes you just want to get a little festive.  Fortunately, it’s easy and fun to add a certain “Ringling Brothers” vintage carnival element with the help of stripes, oranges, reds, and golds.  Add some colored petticoats and skirt lifters, and you’re good to go.

A lot of people think that the corset must be the hardest part, but it really isn’t.  If you have a good, properly fitting corset with serious, sturdy boning (steel or fiberglass), after the initial shock of getting the thing on correctly, they’re quite comfortable over the long haul.

AK: What’s the best way to remove coal stains from a corset?
CP: If Oxyclean doesn’t do it, then I say just smudge the rest of it down with charcoal for an old-fashioned, blue-collar working-class look.  It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

AK: What should one look for in a decent pair of aviator goggles?
CP: It depends on if you’d like a pair to wear, or a pair to stick on a hat for an accent.  If you’re looking for a wearable pair, you don’t want something too hot; avoid fur-lined or rubber-sealed lenses, and look for something with a more open, spectacle-style design if possible. Even a nice light foam rim will get sweaty in time.  Also, adjustable straps are a must, because what’s comfortable at breakfast won’t be comfortable at suppertime.  And make sure the lenses aren’t tinted too darkly, unless you’re using them as sunglasses and plan to spend all day outdoors. Eye strain isn’t sexy on anyone.

If you just want something to mount on a top-hat, then pretty much anything goes except fragile pieces that might not survive the height, any dancing, or the constant pull on the strap. Vintage goggles are awesome (I have a WWII pair, myself), but you have to treat them a little more gently.

AK: Make-up or no make-up when wearing goggles?
CP: I always wear make-up under the goggles, because I never wear them very long.  More than a few minutes on the eyes, and they leave a goofy raccoon ring impression that takes forever to fade.  So I tend to just keep them up on my forehead, or on the front of a hat.

AK: Have you ever been up in a hot air balloon?
CP: Now that you mention it, I haven’t …

AK: Who’s the craziest character in your family?
CP: Oh, I’d better not go there.  Besides, my family is stuffed with so many bananas, how could I pick just one?

AK:What sort of historical research did you have to do for Boneshaker? How was it different from Four and Twenty Blackbirds?
CP: Well, I started by taking the Seattle Underground tour nearly a dozen times, and generally getting to know my way around Pioneer Square downtown (which was easy, since I worked there for about six months).  Then I nabbed every bit of weird local history I could find, including strange ghost stories and bizarre historic characters, and started stalking the cemeteries for names and peculiar facts.

Finally, I made up a bunch of stuff about zombies and decided I’d stick a big wall around the place.  It was really a lot of fun.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds (and the subsequent Eden books) are all set in a real city in the real present, though there are definitely fantastical elements peppering them throughout.  But Boneshaker is an alternate-history version of Seattle, set around 1880.   And beyond that, there are plenty of more general thematic differences.  For example, Eden’s books are about Eden and maybe a couple of other people; they’re very tightly focused–but Boneshaker comes with a cast of thousands and a sprawling backdrop of historic weirdness.

AK: What’s it like working in the Wild Cards universe?
CP: It is awesome and terrifying.  This is a world where there have already been about 20 books written over the last 25 years or so, not to mention entire role playing games and reference volumes of world canon.  Sometimes it feels so huge that I have no idea how to start writing; I’m afraid I’m going to fictionally step on someone else’s character, or mess up something in the canon continuum, or do something that breaks the rules of the Wild Cards universe.

But at the same time, it’s very rewarding and I’m learning a lot. I’m not quite halfway through my portion of the next Wild Cards mosaic (Fort Freak), but I’m quite frankly very proud of what I’ve got so far.

AK: As a successful blogger with a significant online presence, what are your thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites?
CP: I really like Twitter, I’m indifferent to Facebook (though my Twitter feed crossposts there), and I just deleted my MySpace account a few weeks ago, because it gave me nothing but porn spam and band spam.  I have a livejournal too, though my “proper author webpage” crossposts there these days–so although I do participate in a lot of online social sites, I double-up to save energy.

I moved around quite a lot when I was a kid; I went to about eight schools all told, and I lived all over the country … so it’s always neat to reconnect with people I knew back in the day.

AK: You’re working on so many projects…what *aren’t* you doing in the next six months?
CP: I am not sleeping, not keeping my apartment from falling into squalor, and not quitting caffeine like I’d been planning.  But really, it’s better to have too much work than not enough.  I’m always happiest when I have things in the queue; I don’t know what to do with myself when I don’t have a deadline looming.

AK: If you could be any superhero, who would you be and why?
CP: I used to have Wonder Woman Underoos, so she’s the immediate favorite that comes to mind–even though I never liked her background story and until Lynda Carter got hold of her, no one seemed to do anything very interesting with her.  My ambivalence is rooted in the old dilemma of being a girl who loves superheroes… back when I was a kid in the seventies, there was just … Wonder Woman.  That’s all.  So if you wanted to play superheroes with your cousins and friends, well, that’s who you had to be, even if you didn’t like her very much.  Therefore, I eventually acquired a defensive affection for her–and I’ll fight to the death anyone who calls her crap.

Even so, sometimes when I can’t sleep or I get bored while stuck in traffic, I fantasize about actually, formally, thoroughly rebooting her franchise. And it’s the only time I ever consider writing anything like fanfic.

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