Dieselpunk or Decopunk?

I am a newcomer to the Dieselpunk world. I’ll admit that right up front. Many have paved the way before me. In order to understand the genre, I’ve read the fiction and I’ve read the discussions and attempted definitions.

From my reading, I gather there is no hard set definition as of yet. There is, however, a certain understanding of what is in-bounds and out-of-bounds. Having gotten that far, I was then thrown for a loop when I discovered the term “Decopunk” and even more puzzled when I learned “Decopunk” occupies the same time period as Dieselpunk. So what differentiates a story as Decopunk or Dieselpunk? Is it a simple case of authorial whim?

It seems the granddaddy of all the punk genres is cyberpunk. So what is cyberpunk? As near as I can tell, cyberpunk is set in the future, on earth, features advanced and invasive computerized information technology, and is dystopic. It has noir and hardboiled elements and is often nihilistic.

Writers, always looking for new turf to plow, began applying the punk characteristics of individualism and anti-establishmentarianism to the Victorian Era. An appropriate field to plow due to the rapid technological advances of the era, their vision of a high tech future, and the dark undercurrent which existed beneath the prim and proper and polite surface.

Steampunk, however, to my mind, seems to focus more on alternative history and the generally progressive mood of the Victorian Era. It does not seem to be overly dystopic in tone.

Dieselpunk is definitely grittier; incorporating to a greater degree the noir, hardboiled, and nihilistic elements of cyberpunk. There may be an optimistic note, but war and totalitarianism always seem to be lurking in the background.

So where does Decopunk fit in? How does it differ from Dieselpunk? Supposedly, Decopunk is sleeker and shinier that Dieselpunk. It is the chrome-plated version. It is the car, without the grease and oil covered mechanic nearby. Decopunk seems more focused on the art of the era: Art Deco and Streamline Moderne. Somewhat less of a technological emphasis in favor of an artistic one. Art rather than diesel. It might be a bit more positive as well, reflective of the art of the era.

As always, I look forward to your comments and opinions!

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #4

What is science fiction, or even science fantasy, without a robot? In today’s snippet we meet “Ernest”. At this point in the novel (hot off my pencil as of last night), “Ernest” has just been uncrated. No one in Lady Dru’s party knew “he” even existed. Except the rather suspicious Mafeking Smith, who brought the machine along. A historical note here. Ernest Schiebold did indeed work on a particle beam weapon for the Germans in WW II and the company Richert and Seifert produced the parts. Weaving fact in with fiction, I think, helps to make the fiction more believable.

So here goes:

…before us was an odd looking machine. Mounted on caterpillar treads was a brushed steel cylinder, with a domed top. Attached to the sides were two mechanical arms. From the top came a rod and attached to the rod was a device that looked something like and electric torch. The entire machine was about seven feet tall. The width, from tread to tread, was also seven feet; the cylinder itself, five feet.

Pointing to the machine, Mafeking said, “Meet Ernest. He is a Class III Robotic Wonder Weapon Self-Propelled. Developed by Richert and Seifert, Ernest employs the latest in particle beam weaponry: the Schiebold Röntgenkanone IV-D.”

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If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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The Fabulous Pencil

I love pencils. They are an extremely utilitarian writing instrument. While the US spent millions developing a pen to write in outer space, the Soviets, strapped for cash, simply used a pencil.

Pencils are uncomplicated and yet are a fairly complex bit of engineering. And I am referring to the “simple” wood-cased pencil. It is their uncomplicated nature which appeals to me. Simply sharpen and write.

To save wear and tear on my hand, I like using a soft lead. I can get a dark enough line to read and not exert much pressure to do so. Depending on the manufacturer, a 2B, 3B, or 4B is best for me.

But why use a pencil at all? In this day and age, with computers, smart phones, and tablets, why use a pencil — why write, by hand?

Check out these articles which show the benefits of writing by hand:

The Lowdown on Longhand

Do Writers Need to Write by Hand

Type or Write

The bottom line? We retain more information with writing by hand over typing and we become more thoughtful composers. Our sentence structure and grammar are better and we have more coherent thoughts.

My favorite pencils are General’s Semi-Hex No. 1 and General’s Test Scoring No. 580. The lead on each is soft and smooth, yet they keep a decent point, and the cost is very reasonable. Plus they are made in America.

The other pencils I tend to reach for are the Staedtler Mars Lumograph in 3B and the Blackwing series by Palomino. The former is made in Germany and the latter in Japan. Both are very smooth writing. The downside is cost. They are pricey.

So the next time you start to write your version of the Great American Novel, reach for a pencil.

Do you have a favorite pencil? If so, share what it is!

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #3

Thanks to the advice given previously by my friends on Dieselpunks.org, I’ve revised the first 8 sentences of my new Lady Dru novel. I’ve dumped the “info dump” in favor of showing Dru’s impish side. Let me know if this is an improvement, or if I need to go back to the drawing board. Here is the snippet:

I pushed the throttle and watched the speedo needle cross the one hundred miles per hour mark and pulled back on the stick. The nose of my Puss Moth rose and continued rising. Up, up, up we flew until we were upside down. I pushed the stick forward and down we came; pulled back and leveled off, completing the loop.

Karl started awake and I put my little baby into a displacement roll (something like a corkscrew); once, twice, thrice. Karl started screaming, “We’re going to crash!”

I brought the plane back to level just as Karl grabbed an airsick bag and threw up. I was laughing so hard, tears ran from my eyes.

If you are interested in dieselpunk and would like to check out the other posts, head on over to Dieselpunks.org.

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The Literary Sketch

My love affair with the sketch goes back many years to my reading of Adventures in Contentment by David Grayson. At first puzzled by the seeming lack of direction the author took, I suddenly realized the “novel” was a collection of vignettes, or sketches, and each one produced a mood of contentment. I was enthralled with the skill of the author in making each chapter a haven of contentment. From the Adventures, I went on to discover other writers of sketches: Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Anthony Trollope to name three.

A sketch is at base a mood evoking descriptive piece of writing. Perhaps the verbal equivalent of the tone poem. A painting in words. One of the best discussions of the form I’ve found is in a blog post from 2007 on the Siris blog, simply entitled “Literary Sketch”. Do check it out.

The sketch has no plot to it, although there may be movement in the piece. Through the description of the scene, a mood is evoked and that is its strength: to use the power of words to evoke feeling and to perhaps stir us to our very core.

There is a Japanese literary form developed by Basho called haibun, a linking form of prose and haiku, which is very similar to the sketch. Basho composed his travel journals in haibun, as well as writing stand alone atmospheric pieces and essays in the form. I love haibun. It is a brilliant dance of prose and poetry.

If you haven’t tried the sketch, either writing one or reading one, I encourage you to do so. A well written sketch is prose poetry at its finest.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #2

Today’s snippet is from The Moscow Affair (published in November). In the novel the character Dunyasha is a Russian baroness, who has lived in America since a child to escape the Bolshevik Revolution. Now she is back in Russia trying to overthrow the Communists in the wake of Stalin’s death. Even though married to the Baron Bobrinsky, she and the Baron have a very open marriage and in fact don’t see much of each other. Dunyasha has fallen in love with Dru, but Dru doesn’t feel the same for Dunyasha. At this point in the novel, a young Czarist fighter, whom Dunyasha cares deeply about, died in a battle. He was a poet and the poem below is his last, which he had written for her but didn’t get the chance to give her:

Amongst the trees of this muddy spring
I sit foxhole deep and zeal fades away.
Again the rain so gently falls today
And to this gun, a babe to the breast, I cling.
We wait, listening for the word he brings
Which tells if we shall go or we shall stay.
And yet, it matters not. We just obey,
Day in, Day out, the orders of our King.
Foxhole deep in mud I sit thinking thoughts
Of her and all the choices wrong I made
Which put me here and left her, longing, there.
The things we do for love of king, I swear
We should think over again the things we were taught
And give our love to no one but a maid.

Tears were in my eyes by the time she finished the poem.

There are more snippets over on Dieselpunks.org. Check them out and if you are into dieselpunk, you might even want to join the fun!

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The Protagonist in the Pits

Structure. I intend to write about structure today. What?! A pantser writing about structure? Yes, I, the consummate pantser, I, who have the sign above my desk which says, “Pantsers rule and Plotters drool”, am going to write about structure. Fasten your seat belts. Here we go!

I have always been a fan of 5-Act structure, which dates back to ancient times. However, there was always something of a problem. Act III is supposed to be the climax and since when is the climax in the middle of the story? Standard plotting advice puts the climax near the end of the story with a quick resolution. Critics of 5-Act structure are, of course, very quick to point this out. Some note that Shakespeare, himself, didn’t have the climax in Act III.

This situation remained a dilemma until I read a book entitled Write Your Novel  From The Middle by James Scott Bell. The book is short and, I think, high priced — however, his revelation concerning the “midpoint” is perhaps worth the price of the book. It did completely change my thinking regarding the protagonist in the story and the story’s structure.

So what is the “midpoint”? Aside from being the middle of the story, it is the precise point where the protagonist is staring “death” in the face and has to make a decision. The “death” might be physical, psychological, or professional, but there it is and Jane Heroine or John Hero has to make a decision.

Jane or John has hit bottom, so to speak, in the midpoint. The first half of the story has flung her or him into a veritable Slough of Despond. There seems to be no way out. Jane or John is probably going to “die”. The midpoint is where the Hero or Heroine has to decide to throw in the towel or dig deeply within and find what it takes to overcome.

The midpoint, in addition, tells us what the story is about. What the protagonist decides he or she must do or must become in order to triumph. The rest of the story tells us if Jane or John makes the necessary change or does the necessary deed.

Back to 5-Act structure. In essence, every story has two climactic points: the climax of the protagonist and the climax of the story. I think the protagonist’s climax happens in the middle of Act III. That of the story, in Act IV.

Five-Act structure, therefore, looks like this:

Exposition (Act I) – We are introduced to the protagonist, the protagonist’s world, and the problem.

Rising Action (Act II) – Now the troubles begin, rising out of the protagonist’s response to the problem. And, of course, things keep getting worse for our Hero or Heroine as he or she tries to solve the problem.

Climax 1 (Act III) – The protagonist continues to face troubles and hits “bottom” in the middle of the act. He or she has to decide what he or she is made of. The remainder of the act sees the protagonist slowly begin to crawl out of his or her hole.

Climax 2 (Act IV) – A determined protagonist tackles the antagonist with renewed vigor. Troubles must still be overcome. The antagonist isn’t going down without a fight. But, in the final battle, we have the story’s climax.

Resolution (Act V) – The story comes to its conclusion. The problem is solved. All the loose ends are wrapped up. The protagonist is wiser for his or her experience.

I hope you found this of help. It has certainly helped me.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks

Last Sunday, I participated for the first time in the 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.org. The exercise was fantastic. I met great people and got tremendous feedback. Check it out if you are into dieselpunk and maybe looking for a little feedback on your writing. Or just check it out for fun.  8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.org.

Characters have a way of appearing in a story. Especially, I think when one is a pantser. In my published novel, The Moscow Affair, such a character strolled onto the stage and stayed there. She is Avdotya, the Baroness Bobrinsky, known to everyone as Dunyasha. She and Lady Dru become best of friends.

Here is a snippet from my forthcoming Lady Dru novel. Dru has just said she is so very glad Dunyasha decided to join the expedition.

“I almost didn’t,” Dunyasha replied, “but this one –”, she hooked a thumb in Klara’s direction, “was most persuasive. Besides, I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to you.”

“So you decided to join us just to play mother hen,” I said.

“Someone has to. You get yourself into the damnedest predicaments. Doesn’t she, Karl?”

Karl smiled and said, “That she does. Sir Galahad would have to put in overtime.”

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