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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Writing through Writers' Block

original post: http://karenjcarlisle.com/2017/03/26/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.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What is Steampunk?

original post: http://karenjcarlisle.com/2017/03/19/what-is-steampunk/

Last month, for Steampunk Hands Around the World, I posted about how steampunk had enriched my life. I spoke of the diversity and inclusivity of steampunk, how it fired my imagination and inspired me to search for the wonder in the world and how its whimsical nature has helped with my anxiety. Recently I spoke to someone who asked me what exactly is steampunk? I thought I'd revisit a post which explains about:

The Steam, the Punk and the Writing.

The first appearance of the word steampunk was in Locus Magazine in 1987. The term was coined by SF author K W Jeter to define specific speculative fiction works and is a tongue-in-cheek variant on cyberpunk.

What is Steampunk?

The simplest definition of steampunk is to describe it as Victorian science fiction. To elaborate: Victorian: set in the 19th century, with the science fiction element containing modern technology powered by steam.
In reality steampunk is more complex. It is a creative movement re-imagining analog technologies, mechanics and inventions – powered by steam – and set in the industrialised 19th century. It now encompasses not only fiction, but art, fashion, music, cinema/TV and fandom.
The Steam – The essence of steampunk can be described as an imagined alternate history or future where electricity and petroleum technologies did not dominate, and where steam/ geared, analog technology gave rise to its own versions of modern technology.
The Punk – a philosophy of bucking the system, going against the convention to declare an individuality in style, attitude and gadgets. In a way steampunk is a rebel with a cause – to be free of the norm.
One of my favourite definitions comes from the TV show Castle (Episode: Punked)“…a subculture that embraces the simplicity and romance of the past but at the same time couples it with the hope and promise and sheer super coolness of futuristic design.
As a writing genre, it is a sub genre of science fiction and fantasy; steampunk is now listed as a separate sub-genre on Amazon and Goodreads. It can contain fantasy, horror or historical aspects. It is usually written as alternative history or alternative fantasy.
Steampunk stories are often set in 19th century Western civilizations, such as Victorian England (or the Wild West) where there was a rapid urbanisation and expansion of Empires, a plethora of inventions and scientific discoveries, telecommunication and the rise of mechanised manufacturing and industry.  Recently more stories have been set in Asia or Africa. Steampunk has also crossed over into other genres such as YA, Romance, Erotica and with Gothic/paranormal crossovers such as Gaslamp.
There is sometimes a fine line between Victorian (historical) era and steampunk novels. There is no rule to how many steampunk elements need to be incorporated into a story; it can be subtle or over reaching, creating a very blurred line in some cases.
Steampunk has increased in popularity over the past decade. There are books on writing the genre and even an article on How to Write Steampunk in Writing Magazine.  It has infiltrated into mainstream media and fashion. Steampunk inspired fashion featured in the Fall 2012 line from Prada, Retro G Couture.

Icons and Idiosyncrasies:

Steampunk often includes the following:
  • Goggles are probably the most recognisable steampunk icon. They are often found used in pastimes – eg. driving, inventing, mechanics etc. now commonly seen in the fashions and one way to help delineate from historical 19th century styles and modernity.
  • historical or fantasy setting/world or retro-futuristic
  • alternative history – 19th c industrialised setting and society,  or post apocalyptic
  • steam powered gadgets and machinery
  • gears are a familiar icon – relating to engines, pistons, wheels, mechanics.
  • modern inventions as envisioned with 19th century, steam-powered mechanics, eg. mechanical/analog computers
  • airships and dirigibles
  • often relaying the Victorian optimism for the future, encompassing a sense of adventure (often found) in the Empire
  • oh, and kraken/octopuses/squid are not uncommon, whether gigantic, mechanical or symbolic (cool – I love cephalopods)

Examples of Steampunk:

  • Literature – novels by HG Wells and Jules Verne. Modern novels such as William Gibson’s The Difference Engine, KW Jeter’s Infernal Devices, The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger. Graphic novels such as The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.
  • Movies/TV:  Captain Nemo, Steamboy, Wild, Wild West, Sherlock Holmes, Murdoch Mysteries, Warehouse 13. The steampunk theme has been used in episodes of TV shows – with varying success – like Castle (Punk’d – liked) and CSI:NY (Time Up) and NCIS: LA (Random On Purpose – disappointing).
  • Music: Professor Elemental, Abney Park, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, and The Cog is Dead – to name but a few.
  • Games: Bioshock II, Arcanum,
And the Writing – I have written science fiction, fantasy and even science-fiction comedy (or at least tried to). But I most enjoy writing steampunk. It meshes my long-time love of science fiction with my love of history and historical re-enactment. I can identify with the steampunk philosophies of creativity, decoration, self-reliance and the Victorian optimism for the future – even in the face of danger, and dastardly deeds.
I often find a delicious contradiction between the passions and machinations that are concealed beneath the expected manners of Victorian society. I love the rampant enthusiasm for new adventures, scientific discoveries and inventions. Steampunk allows me to rewrite history to allow my female characters to exert themselves, to rebel against the conformity present in history. There are so many possibilities I can write – political intrigue, murder, mystery, myth and magic, treachery and adventure.
And the clothing is cool too.
   
Photos © 2009/ 2017 Karen J Carlisle. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Photo Friday: Reading, Writing, Playing

original post: http://karenjcarlisle.com/2017/03/17/photo-friday-reading-writing-playing/

After last year's realisation I had only read two novels (I'd read about twenty non-fiction books and had started several books...), I've concentrated on finding new novels to read this year. This week I've scored a few novels from Australian and independent authors. The blurbs sounded intriguing. These are now in my growing reading pile. Will I make it to the bottom?
   
But I still can't resist the non-fiction...
  
And then there's writing. I'm currently working on an Absent Sherlock Holmes short story for an Australian anthology. Submissions open soon. Wish me luck!
It wasn't all written word this week; we started a new game, introducing some of our friends to D&D. Huzzah!
Photos © 2017 Karen J Carlisle


Sunday, March 12, 2017

How do you make your tea?

original post: http://karenjcarlisle.com/2017/03/12/how-do-you-make-your-tea/

I just found out something absolutely gob smacking. Twitter was boiling with disbelief (mainly from Aussies); the electric kettle is almost unknown in the US. My first reaction was: What? (With a few exclamation marks added). How can that be? How does one boil water for a cup of tea?
Further investigation and FB reply posts tell me there are a plethora of electronic devices for making coffee but not for boiling water for tea. It's either provided by:
  1. instant hot water taps.
  2. microwave or
  3. on the stove kettle.
The mind boggles. I average 4 cups of tea a day and, while we do have a stove top kettle for power failure days (more than we like recently), it is more convenient to just pop the electric kettle on and keep writing until it boils. (It's also safer. Yes, I have forgotten about the stove top kettle and almost boiled it dry. Oops.) I've tried microwaving the water (when the kettle died). The tea tastes flat.
This prompted me to pull out my research on making tea (yes, I did that for a previous story idea. I wanted to know how, and if, tea making in the 19th century, WWI and WWII.) I came across this: Tea According to George Orwell.
There are many webpages - historical or from tea merchants - who can advise on making the 'proper cup of tea'. There are hot debates on:
1. Pot versus cup
I do both, depending on how many people are drinking the tea and how much time I have. Using a pot takes longer. If I forget and leave the pot too long, the tea goes bitter.  So,  if I'm home alone, I'll use a cup.

2. Leaf versus teabag

This is what George Orwell has to say on the matter:
"The tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly."
I do own tea bags, mostly for boutique teas or my friends' favourites. I prefer loose leaf tea. I have a selection of various teas (mostly from T2, The T Bar and Kappy's Cafe).
Originally we changed to loose leaf tea for environmental reasons - to reduce household waste. The bags add to unnecessary paper wastage and pile up in the bin. I also put spent tea leaves over my roses. They love it.
Loose leaf is best kept in air tight containers. Fresh tea does taste better. Fresh, loose tea tastes best.
And you can get such cute tea accessories. Here are just a few of my 'tea balls':

3. Mug versus teacup

I use both. I prefer tea cups, the prettier or more interesting the better. I have a collection of receptacles for my tea. A tea cup can dictate my mood and therefore my writing. The one thing that experts seem to agree on is to avoid disposable cups. (It really does change the taste.)

4. Add milk first (Miffins) or add milk last (Tiffins).

I don't add milk, so I can sit on the fence with this one.  Being lactose intolerant, it was easier to wean myself off milk than to ask for soy (which I don't like the taste of) or take my own goat milk when I went out. It's not a regular thing people have in their fridge. So I prefer my tea black with none (ie. no sugar). It makes life so much easier.
But to answer the question. It's really up to you. According to Mr Orwell, milk is added last. Adding the milk first will drop the temperature of the tea and effect the taste of the tea, and makes it easier to judge how much milk to add until your tea is just right (we all know the colour of our preferred tea). The University College London recommend milk first. (Apparently it was orignally done, in 18th century England, to cool the water so the cups of the time would not shatter, as most people couldn't afford fine china cups).

And now for the science of a perfect cup of tea

According to a study by the University College London, the type of cup, water temperature and brewing time are all crucial to that perfect cup of tea.
  • The smooth surface of a china cup or mug keep the natural tannins in the tea from sticking to the cup and provides a psychologically comforting sound when stirring your tea.
  • Fresh water in the kettle gives improved flavour. Reboiling existing water in the kettle reduces the oxygen content of the water, hence less drawing less flavour from the leaves.
  • Temperature: For black tea, let the kettle boil and then click off. Wait a few seconds and pour. Hotter water increases the rate of chemical reactions. The ideal temperature is 93 deg C (200 deg F). For green or white tea, leave to cool a while longer. Delicate teas are best brewed at 80 degrees Celcius (so the leaves aren't damaged). There are now temperature regulated electric kettles available. You can set the temperature for standard black tea, green tea or boutique teas.
  • Ideal brewing time is 2-5 minutes. This will depend on the type of tea. Brewing time is less for in the cup versus in the pot. New Scientist magazine offered this information on caffeine levels and brewing time based on FDA information. If you're not sure, just ask at your local tea shop (at least in Australia) when you buy your favourite tea. They will tell you the ideal water temperature and brewing time.
It's all about 'patience, love and care'. Even the scientists understand the psychological benefit of that hot, relaxing cuppa. Ah, tea!
Finally, here's I make my tea in a cup
  1. Fill the kettle with fresh (filtered - hey, I live in Adelaide!) water
  2. Boil. Let rest for a few seconds.
  3. Fill teaball with a teaspoon of tea (My favourites are Prince of Wales - without the fancy fruit leaf additions - and Roman's blend (a special blend of of Darjeeling and Assam made by Kappy's for a friend of ours. Yep, his name is Roman.)
  4. Pour water
  5. I brew for only a minute. I drink a lot of tea. The caffeine helps reduce my migaines. I've found several cups over the day is better for keeping them at bay, than one mega hit, which also kicks off a sleepless night and possible anxiety.
   
And for the pot:
  1. Fill the kettle with fresh water.
  2. Boil and pour into pot, to warm it.
  3. Fill the kettle again.
  4. Boil. Let rest for a few seconds.
  5. Pour out water from pot. (When it cools it gets poured on thirsty pot plants)
  6. Put tea leaves in pot (one teaspoon per person and one for the pot)
  7. Pour water
  8. I brew slightly longer for the pot, usually about two minutes for my cuppa. I let it brew a minute or so longer for my fellow drinkers.
   
And an added bonus - Tim Tam Slam
No digestive bikkies for us. Try a Tim Tam Slam.
  1. Make a nice cup of tea.
  2. Choose your Tim Tam wisely
  3. bite two corners off (on opposite sides)
  4. dunk your Tim Tam into the tea (or coffee for purists) - while it is still piping hot.
  5. Suck through the Tim Tam, using it like a straw.
  6. And enjoy the chocolatey-tea goodness but be warned. It can get messy.
   
So do you use a stove top kettle, electric kettle or microwave? I'd be interested to know how you boil your water for tea. Please leave a comment below.
Photos ©2017 Karen J Carlisle

Friday, March 10, 2017

Photo Friday: Words and Pictures

original post: http://karenjcarlisle.com/2017/03/10/photo-friday-words-and-pictures/

This week I got sidetracked. Again. Sometimes tracking crossing timelines isn't an easy task. But I have an excuse; I've been battling my summer bronchitis (my legacy from the inevitable North winds that relocate the dust into my lungs). Dosed up on medication makes it difficult to concentrate. (You can hear me rattle when I walk.)
So I picked up a book to read and, to my dismay, I discovered I have ten books on the go. Three of them are from indie authors.  I've been so tired I have forgotten which books I have started  (seven of my reading pile).
Just as I was getting frustrated at my lack of motivation, an email popped up in my inbox: an Australian produced anthology (with a theme right up my alley). An idea weedled its way into my brain. How could I resist? The only issue is my constant nemesis: time. I plunged into research, pulling out reference books and DVDs.
   
The minimum word count is 5000 words. Can I do it in a week? If I could, then it may just kick me out of my timeline unraveling funk; completing something is a real buzz and incites more and more writing!
Photos ©2017 Karen J Carlisle

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Costume Diary: A New Corset for Oz ComicCon

original post: http://karenjcarlisle.com/2017/03/05/costume-diary-a-new-corset-for-oz-comic-con/

I've been accepted for a table at this year's Oz Comic Con in Adelaide.  Time for an new corset!
First task was to draft up a new under-the-bust pattern, as I've changed since my last one. A new toile was fitted, thanks to Lynne Cook.
  
I used two layers of cotton duck for the structural part of the corset. The spiral metal boning was sandwiched between them, in sewn channels.  The pattern was cut perpendicular to the long grain, so the strongest part of the material would be around the body. The outer, decorative layer was cut to follow the pattern. This one has a pirate map theme, using left over material from one of my blouse projects.
The metal busk was inserted, using an awl to create the holes for the 'knobs' (so the material threads were not broken, to reduce fraying and keep material integrity) and sewn in place. Boning channels were sewn in place.
  
I used 25 mm cotton bias to edge the top and bottom of the corset. Finally the grommets were inserted (these are size 0, black). Again, an awl is used to create the hole, to avoid breaking threads.
 
And here is the final creation - my new pirate map under-the-bust corset. Thanks to Lynne, of the Australian Costumers' Guild for her assistance in fitting. Now to see if I can get a second one finished before the con. Come by my table at Oz Comic Con to find out.
Photos © 2017 Karen Carlisle.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Photo Friday: Sounds in the Square

original post: http://karenjcarlisle.com/2017/03/03/photo-friday-sounds-in-the-square/

Here's a photo diary of last week's Adelaide Fringe Event, Sounds in the Square. Thanks to Salisbury Council for the opportunity to participate in their first creator's market in the Salisbury Secret Garden.
  
  
 
  
And just for fun - another video on youTube.

Photos and Film © 2017 Karen J Carlisle. All rights reserved.