Are You Ready

This weekend I participated, with a group of fellow amateur radio operators, in an event called Field Day. Field Day is where you take your emergency equipment out and contact other amateur operators using that equipment. To increase emergency preparedness points are given to stations that use non-commercial power to energize their equipment, such as solar cells, batteries, portable generators. Just like you would use in a major disaster.

This is the first time in years that I have participated and there were lessons learned.

Lesson one is having good pre-planning. We had a plan for where each station would set up on our remote (well sort of remote) location. Except the plan was on the web and we had no internet connection at the remote location. Next time we will have a paper copy of the plan in hand. Why? One of the disaster we were simulating could be an outage or break down of the internet. Our phones are now run by and on the internet. Trucks are routed by the internet. Many police and other agencies have radios that synchronize with the internet. If the net goes down it will be a big disaster.

Lesson two, bring knife, fork, and spoon. We ended up without eating utensils. It’s a long story, but the person in years past that did the cooking could not make it this year. So next year we will have more than one person bring eating utensils. We also did not have salt and pepper. Oh, it ws rough out there. We sent one person out for pizza and they couldn’t find the pizza place. Next time we will have maps to the nearest pizza place.

We did have enough paper towels, but only because one person brought plenty. Need to share the load so if he doesn’t make it next year then someone else will have some.

We had plenty of antennas and radios. We did not have enough coax (a type of wire that connects radios to antennas) with the right connectors on the ends. Lesson learned, make up some jumper cables of various lengths. Check to make sure I have the right connectors on the coax to connect the antennas to my radios.

We had equipment failures and no circuit diagrams to help fix the equipment. Next time make sure everyone brings manuals for their radios, power supplies, and equipment. Have everyone read and then study their manuals. One group was off the air for hours because a switch had been bumped and the radio was in the wrong mode.

We barely had enough rope to guy the mast that hold up the antennas. Next time bring even more rope. We did mark the ropes and masts so next time there will not be as much confusion when putting up the antennas and their masts. I brought what  I thought was enough rope, but I was wrong.

The list goes on.

What does this have to do with writing Steampunk?

Do you have enough coffee or tea to keep you going if there is a big storm?

Do you have enough lighting so you can write well. What if the power goes out because a tree branch drops across a power line? Do you have spare batteries? Do you have a way of charging up your lap top if the power goes out.

Your writing is your life. Make sure you can write if things go wrong.

Do you have enough blankets if the power goes out and it’s cold outside?

Do you have enough food to last three or four days if you get stranded in your house or living space?

Do you have enough of the simple things like toilet paper if things go bad?

Do you have enough printer paper and toner cartridges? The office supply store could be closed by a disaster and Amazon may not be able to deliver even with drones.

It’s your writing, your life, your livelihood, and your passion; be prepared.

Stay strong, write on, be prepared.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Looking for ideas in all the right places

I recently read an article titled Looking For Ideas In All the Wrong Places. I was disappointed. This article did give you places to look, but only three or four tired examples.

The article mentioned a writer using Jane Austin’s Emma for the foundation of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It also mentioned George Luicas using samurai movies for inspiration in making Star Wars.

I suggest you try using advice even older than that. Look and read the classics. I know you will be appalled. Everyone will call you out for using the tired old classic like Greek or Roman myths.

People call out George Luicas for using samurai movies, but he still makes a lot of money from those movies. The Magnificent Seven film used samurai stories long before Mr. Luicas did. Besides kids are and millennials were schooled to pass a standardize test. They don’t know and haven’t been exposed to the classics. It will be all new to them.

Are you tired of the Greek and Roman classics? Then look to the Russian folklore, or the Slavic folklore. Don’t forget the French have a folklore that is not classic Disney fairytales. The Mideast also has treasure trove of tales that are not in the 1001 and one nights set of stories.

It’s going to take some work to find these stories and set them in space or the 1800s steamunk world. But other authors are not going to work that hard. They want quick easy ideas, handed to them fully formed and populated with characters.

Read up on myths and legends from other cultures. The Hobbit pulled pieces from dozens of Germanic mythology tales. Escaping from the bad guys in a wooden barrel and using it to float down a river was taken right out of an old German legend. (Don’t try the barrel trick, it’s harder than it looks and you better know how to swim). Go to the source, the original tales, don’t copy the Hobbit. You’ll always run into the reader that is a teacher of Germanic culture, but all your other readers will find your stories new and different, because they have not been exposed to the source stories. Schools only have time to teach standardized tests.

Dig into the tales of your ancestors. The tales of Appalachia, Mexico, or the native Americans of Canada. Those stories are different, sometimes they don’t make sense and you have to research the culture of the story teller, but your reader will never have been exposed to them, except for that grumpy old teacher.

Stay strong, write on, retell the old tales with computers and lasers.

Professor Hyram Voltage

You Need a Story Idea and You Can’t Think of a Thing, part 2

Last post I talked about using current problems (global problems) in your story. But your characters have problems. Problems that were of great concern during the character time and place. In the 1800s there were concerns about over population. The air in London was so bad it would kill people (do we ever learn?). Disease outbreaks, germ theory was just being developed and some people didn’t believe it and even fought against the theory. War was always a worry. Taxes were always increasing, there are two things that are certain in life, death and tax increases.

Your characters are going to have strong feeling about these problems. She’s going to be worried about robber barons, thieves, and upraising such as Poncho Viva. We call them black swan events. They called them life.

Research the history of the time period. If there is a war going on your character will know about it and talk about it. It will cause price increases. It will offer an opportunity for your character to invent something to help in the war, and make her a lot of money in the process. Your character may even volunteer for the army or navy. What would happen if your character was refused to be let in the army? Was she the wrong culture, wrong social status or to high a social status. We don’t let titled ladies in the army. Your type can only be a shoe shiner in this army. That’s a personal conflict. Something your character could rebel against.

The weapon to end all wars, that your character invented, could be squashed by the government. Like the pope tried to suppress the cross bow. This could happen even if the other side was already or about to use the same or similar weapon. Gentlemen don’t fight like that.

Make a problem of the time period a major conflict of your story. Come up with a new way to solve the problem and look for unintended consequences cause by this new solution.

A new take on an old problem will save a lot of effort on trying to think up an original conflict.

Don’t forget that whole work forces were being displaced by new inventions, in a few weeks. There was no unemployment insurance in the 1800s. People facing starvation can do desperate things.

Real problems make real good stories.

Stay strong, write on, go study history and repeat it.
Professor Hyram Voltage

Ideas, Current Disasters, and Steampunk

You need a story idea and you can’t think of a thing.

Pull a Terry Pratchett and write about today’s problems set in your story world. You don’t think the 1800s had problems with bizarre political actions, you need to read some history. Both US and English history.

This works very well for something you are deeply concerned about, things like; another World War, Global Warming, or Over Population. If you care about these things and put them into your story. Your story will be better because you’re adding things that you care about and the reader may care about.

It’s called social Satire. Years ago I attended a book signing for a murder mystery author. The author was from England. In her talk she mentioned a then current phenomenon in England where the crime rate plummeted. And it wasn’t for a good reason.

The police in England were getting captured criminals to confess to multiple crimes in exchange for reduced sentences. This reduced the number of unsolved crimes and made the police look better, they were catching criminals and reducing crime.

This is straight out of Terry Pratchett’s book. Sorry, I started to look for the particular volume, but kept getting sucked into the books. How did he write like that?

The book featured Captain Vimes and it was after Carrot got his girl friend the werewolf.

This is social satire. Using real events that people may not believe could happen, but did, in a make believe world.

You have to have had something that happened to you that sounds impossible. Like the IRS giving you money back, or getting out of a traffic ticket because it’s Monday. No, no one would believe that, besides it was on a Sunday.

Authors say that they can’t write about true events because the readers wouldn’t believe them and it would throw the reader out of the story. Put those impossible things, world shaking things in your story, steampunk is the perfect place for the world shaking unbelievable.

Stay strong, write on, and write about what concerns you.

Professor Hyram Voltage