The Wonderful Machine Age

The Machine Age is that glorious sixty-five years of scientific and especially technological development occurring between 1880 and 1945. Virtually everything we take for granted today, for good or for ill, has its origin in The Machine Age. In the coming weeks I’ll share with you some of the inventions, social movements, and artistic expressions originating in that glorious era when science and technology were going to solve all of our problems.

I became interested in The Machine Age when I started writing speculative fiction (or science fiction, if you prefer). And I soon discovered The Machine Age also touched upon the crime and horror fiction I also write, although much more indirectly. The Machine Age directly or indirectly touches on all writing.

Speculative fiction, whether heavily based in science or not, takes the known and extrapolates it into an alternative world from the one in which we live. That world might be in the future, another dimension, or an alternative past.

The speculative fiction I write falls into the subgenres of post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophes and dieselpunk. In both, I make heavy use of the wonders of The Machine Age.

In The Rocheport Saga, the hero, Bill Arthur, has set for himself the task of not letting the human race descend into the Stone Age after a mysterious illness wipes out nearly all of humanity. He is determined to overcome our modern lack of knowledge of how things work in order to rebuild society. The knowledge is all there, in books and old people, we just need to learn how to do what our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents did as a matter of course.

Bill Arthur takes comfort in the fact that The Machine Age inventions were largely produced by amateurs. The Wright brothers made bicycles and Santos-Dumont was a wealthy kid who liked to tinker — they weren’t aeronautical engineers. The Stanley twins, one a photographer and the other a school teacher, were not automotive engineers. Count Zeppelin was a retired military officer who knew nothing about flying. His chief engineer and designer, Ludwig Dürr, knew nothing about airships. And the greatest airship captain of all time, Hugo Eckener, was a journalist.

In a very real sense, amateurs built the foundations of our modern world. Therefore in the post-apocalyptic world of Rocheport and Bill Arthur, amateurs can do it again. People simply need to understand how things work.

In the Lady Dru series and the forthcoming Rand Hart series, I build dieselpunk alternative histories based on The Machine Age. From the late 1800s through World War II, the dreamers of what the future would be like came up with some pretty fantastic ideas. Robots to be our servants and fight our wars. Airships to provide safe and quiet transportation for people and cargo. Cities free from pollution and traffic congestion. And, yes, flying cars.

Those same dreamers also came up with things like particle beam weapons and orbiting parabolic mirrors to send the sun’s light in death rays to destroy cities. They even speculated on thought beam weapons. The flying wing, jet engines, the ballistic and cruise missiles also came from those same dreamers.

The Machine Age was a wonderful time of fantastic technological advancement. I look forward to sharing with you some of the things I’ve discovered while doing research for my novels and I hope you enjoy the discoveries as much as I did.

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8 Sentence Sunday On Dieselpunks #30

In today’s snippet from Rand Hart, we pick up where we left off last week in Hart’s conversation with von Osler. Hart is speaking.

“And why would I need to be creative?”

“You might not have the need. Then again…” Von Osler shrugged. “Luck. She is not always the lady, no?”

“True enough. So you’re telling me I might need to get a little creative in getting this box to the ‘certain person’.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. I would say the odds are in your favor the mission will be quite routine.”

To be continued!

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

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In Praise of Ear Plugs

Many of us love or wish for solitude. Usually we think we have to go somewhere to get it. I’ve gone on week long silence and solitude retreats in order to get the solitude I often crave. A week of peace and quiet and time alone.

Unfortunately, many of us can’t afford to take a week off and a weekend often doesn’t cut it. It just isn’t long enough for us to completely decompress from our work a day worlds. We are just starting to relax and — bam! — we have to go back to the grind.

When I was working for the man, I noticed it took me two or three days when on vacation or a retreat to shake off the anxiety and cares of work. At the end of those two or three days, if I was only gone for a weekend, I’d have to head back and couldn’t enjoy the quiet and solitude. It’s like smelling the steak and getting ready to take a bite, only to have the plate whisked away.

One day, many years ago now, I was looking for information on the internet and ran across a blog article extolling the virtues of ear plugs. Like me, the blogger was sensitive to noise. Living in the city, he was constantly inundated with sound.

Where I live in suburbia, I am next to a very busy county road. In the summer, with the windows open, the traffic noise is deafening. Add planes from the county airport a few miles away and there are times I cannot hear the TV or the music I’m playing. Add to the mix my tinnitus and I’m never without noise. I very much empathized with that blogger.

His solution was to start using ear plugs. I said to myself, “Why not?” A casual reading of reviews led me to the “Hearos” brand. In short, they are a magic wand.

Before I retired, I had the supreme luxury of working from home most of the time. On occasion, though, I had to go in to the office. What I realized was the office is a very noisy place. There was constant talking and often it was very loud. Out came the ear plugs and I had instant silence. Save for my tinnitus, of course. Instantly, I was filled with a sense of peace. The experience was truly amazing, awesome, and mind blowing.

In addition to not hearing the sounds around me, I felt I was alone in my cube and no one else was around. I got both silence and a feeling of solitude from those little ear plugs, which was very good for my mood. I felt more positive, less irritated, and could focus more on my work.

I am a big fan now of ear plugs. An instant silence and solitude retreat. If you live with others, and they are around when you need a break, simply tell them you are taking a half-hour break (or even fifteen minutes). Pop in the ear plugs and close the door on the room. Put a sticky note on the door to remind the forgetful. “Do Not Disturb”. You can always add “Am Praying” or “Am Meditating” or “Listening to the Sounds of Silence”.

Silence and solitude make our lives better. Earplugs and a closed door can make an everyday difference in your life. Try it! You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Do you use ear plugs? Tell us your story!

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8 Sentence Sunday On Dieselpunks #29

In today’s snippet from Rand Hart, we pick up where we left off last week in Hart’s conversation with von Osler.

“Okay, then why me?”

“Because I like your luck.”

“Sometimes I’m lucky.”

The German paused, as if searching for the words to say, then spoke, “You are a very creative poker player. I like and reward creativity.”

Hart looked him in the eyes. “You’re not so bad in the creativity department yourself.”

Von Osler smiled. “You see, Herr Hart, we already have the start for a good working relationship. We understand creativity.”

To be continued!

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

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Love/Hate Challenge

I’m in the middle of editing and rewriting sections of the fourth book in The Rocheport Saga, when along comes a tag from my friend Sarah over at The Old Shelter. Well, this challenge is pretty simple: list 10 loves and 10 hates, then tag 10 others.

I had a tough time limiting my loves to 10! The ones I picked, in no particular order, are:

  1. Tea
  2. Airships
  3. Sailing ships and yachts
  4. Wood fires
  5. Fine Art. In particular the works of Grant Wood and Charles Burchfield, the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements, and the Tonalism painters.
  6. Music. Particularly classical. My favorite composers being Handel and Vaughan Williams.
  7. Solitude
  8. Writing Instruments — except ballpoint pens, which I hate.
  9. Good food — especially Italian
  10. Books

To come up with 10 hates was a bit difficult! These are the ones I came up with, again in no particular order:

  1. Coffee
  2. Travel by airplane
  3. Ballpoint pens
  4. Traffic
  5. The telephone
  6. People who talk constantly
  7. Know-it-alls
  8. Over use of perfume
  9. A day without a package in the mail
  10. A day without seeing something beautiful

Now to tag: Alice, Ben, CL, Jenny, Karen, Holly, Sophia, J Evan, Stanislava, and Jane!

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The Zeppelin Tale!

I love airships! That comes as no surprise to those who know me. This past week, I picked up a copy of the book Lester Dent’s Zeppelin Tales, published by Heliograph.

Lester Dents Zeppelin Tales

The publishers have put out a marvelous book. The stories have been restored from their published version to how Dent actually wrote them. (Editors, you see, often make changes in stories that have nothing to do with improving the story and everything to do with editorial policy designed to sell more advertising, or merely the editor’s fickle whim.) There is also additional material on Dent himself.

What I discovered is in the ‘30s there was an entire subgenre known as “the Zeppelin Tale”. The Hindenburg tragedy and World War II put an end to it, but for about a decade there were Zeppelins filling the skies of the popular fiction of the day. And even in magazines such as Popular Science and Popular Mechanics.

Lester Dent, originally from Missouri, loved zeppelins and the five raucous action/adventure stories are his love-gift to us. Even his superhero, Doc Savage, had an airship. Well, until the Hindenburg crash and the jet airplane appeared. Then Doc’s fantastic airship quietly faded away, just like the hopes of those who thought the airship would one day really rule the skies.

Republication of these stories gives us a look into real dieselpunk fiction from The Machine Age itself. It’s no different than reading Victorian speculative fiction to see how they imagined the future. The fiction of the Victorian era and The Machine Age gives us steampunkers and dieselpunkers a chance to color our own fiction with the fantastically imaginative devices our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers thought were just around the corner.

My discovery of an entire subgenre devoted to the zeppelin is, well, akin to what? Winning the lottery? Being given free reign at the Cadbury chocolate factory? Being given five hundred pounds of tea, my choice, by my favorite tea shop? Maybe all of these?

The stories have definitely inspired me. I can see how original “dieselpunk” was written. How Dent took the “future” and incorporated it into a story set in NOW.

I enjoy steampunk and dieselpunk. They are exceedingly fun subgenres to read and write in. The popularity of dramas such as “Downton Abbey” demonstrates our love for the time period steampunk and dieselpunk operate in. By reading the fiction of the era, we can temper our own stories so they stay true to form and don’t stray far afield.

If you love pulp era fiction, or airships, or dieselpunk and the action/adventure story, pick up a copy of Lester Dent’s Zeppelin Tales. I got mine new from a vendor on Alibris for $10 + shipping. A lot cheaper than Amazon.

The Zeppelin story! Now if I can somehow get my modern private eye, Justinia Wright, on one of those new Zeppelin NTs…

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8 Sentence Sunday On Dieselpunks #28

Rand Hart’s conversation with von Osler continues. Twenty Gs to deliver a little box!

“I need this box in the hands of a certain person in Rio de Janeiro by noon on the eleventh of May. I will give you twenty-five thousand deutsche marks now and the person to whom you give this box will give you another twenty-five thousand.”

Hart thought a moment. “That’s around twenty thousand dollars. Twenty Gs just to deliver a box?”


“What’s in it?”

“It is best if you not know, Herr Hart.”

To be continued!

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

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Guest Blog Post by Alice E Keyes

Today I have the privilege of having writer and soon to be author Alice E Keyes as guest blogger. I met Alice on the 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks forum some time back and then in the Twitterverse and on G+.

I very much enjoy her artistic imagination and how it comes out in her fiction. I look forward to the release of Miss Winsome and the Scientific Society later this year.  And now, here’s Alice!


When CW asked me to do a guest blog for his web page, I wondered what I could possible blog about. My own blog has gone from laborious and naive posts on the writing process to occasional flash fiction and snippets from works-in-progress. When I read CW’s “What’s Cooking?” post, I was inspired to write this blog post.

CW has become a great online writing friend who has been encouraging me to finish a novella, which I started in November 2014. It’s July and I’m a good nitpicky rewrite and line edit away from self-publishing it. He has inspired me from his own self-published books to his recent editing of said novella.

The people online and in person, who have given me eureka writing moments since I began scribbling ideas and scenes in a blank notebook, have been an unforeseen benefit in my pursuit of publishing a book. When I first started writing, I wrote for the creative outlet. I hadn’t painted or drawn in years and my brain begged me to do anything creative. The notebook would come out when I was waiting for my children to finish up an activity or when the idea of doing housework was abhorrent to me. The wacky tidbits were strange, odd, and what I wished I could find in novels being sold.

Noodling around on the Internet and looking at the growing world of self-publishing vs. traditional, I discovered NaNoWriMo which was already three days into the writing month. Yes, I’m another author propelled into writing a complete novel in a mere thirty days or in my case, twenty-seven days. When I finished 50,000 words on November 30, 2009, the joy was indescribable. I actually finished something I started. I thought the premise of my novel was good, but I was unsure of my writing abilities.

Writing in school was tortuous for me. The amount of red corrections on my papers would make me cry. I worked so hard on every essay, story, or poem. I would reread and rewrite to catch the typos and other mistakes. Because of this experience, I sought out ways to have people read what I had written for free. I didn’t ask my husband because he doesn’t read fiction except on rare occasions, nor did I ask friends, because I was too embarrassed my stories might be bad. Really bad. I went to Goodreads and found a couple of beta readers to go over, what I thought were, four carefully edited chapters. Their critiques were a rude awakening and made me realize I had a lot of work to do.

There are countless blogs telling you to not publish before you have had your manuscript read by an unbiased editor and to have that done after each rewrite and then finally have a line editor go over it for the typos, grammar, and misspellings. I couldn’t afford the editor’s prices for these services, so I started to post chapter by chapter on Critique Circle. This started to improve my writing and I had little eureka moments, but comments like, “it needs more emotion,” or “you have a lot of awkward sentences” confused me. I put chapters through edit programs and I had a few more eureka moments. My writing improved and the critiques I received at Critique Circle also improved.

Along the way, I met other writers struggling to improve their work. CW was one and when he asked if he could edit, Miss Winsome and the Scientific Society, I was nervous. He had become my friend and I had read a couple of his novels. What if it was another critique telling me my writing abilities were sophomoric or worse that he would wonder why he had spent his valuable time on such bad work? His edit was thorough and explained why trying to use third person point of view wasn’t working and then gave detailed instructions on how to change the problem. His edit was the most helpful I had ever received even above “professional” editors who would look at a few chapters for free to see if you wanted their services. I had another eureka writing moment.

I now feel that my first self-published book won’t be a sophomoric self-published effort, but something that might have a chance in the saturated indie book market. My slow and steady education on writing a novel has been fraught with disappointment, but the friendships I have made along the way will keep me motivated to find the next writing eureka moment and push me to achieve the goal of becoming a self-published author.

My advise on the need to getting your work edited before you publish is you don’t have to find a professional and expensive editor. The editor you need is someone with an understanding of grammar and an understanding of what makes a novel an enjoyable read. That person can be a spouse, a sister, or friend but never someone who belittles your efforts, tells you everything is great, or gives you vague, unexplained critiques.


What Alice is saying was said by the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke over a hundred years ago to a fledgling poet. Once you’ve decided you can do nothing but write, then structure your world so that is what you can do. The importance of supportive people, who will give you honest appraisals cannot be overestimated. Neither can our listening to the advice these people give us.

Thanks, Alice! Looking forward to the release of Miss Winsome and the Scientific Society.

And now here is little bit about Alice herself:

Alice E Keyes will be publishing her debut novella in 2015. Yellowstone National Park is the location for the steampunk dime store novella and has played an important part in her life. Her mother spotted a cowboy there and decided he was the one. Alice graduated from Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana and she now lives in Cody, Wyoming, both of which are a mere hour’s drive to the first national park. Though she has left the Rockies, once to student teach in England and once to meet her husband in Maryland, their mountains, streams, and towns call her back. She lives four blocks from public land where her favorite mountain biking trails are located. Besides biking and writing, she spends her time with her husband, son, daughter and two Britney dogs.

Connect with Alice at the following places:

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8 Sentence Sunday On Dieselpunks #27

Today, Rand Hart discovers what the meeting with von Osler is all about. And it’s not an invitation for tea and crumpets.

“I am pleased, Herr Hart, you decided to meet with me.”
“What’s on your mind, Mr von Osler?”
“I have a small job for you.”
Hart’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of job?”
“I want you to deliver a package.”
“What kind of package?”
The German took a small box out of his suit coat pocket, put it on the table, and said, “This.”
Hart reached for the box and von Osler put his hand over it.

To be continued!

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

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