You need conflict for your story. You Need Big Conflict.

Don’t think war, think revolution. Revolution pits brother against brother and father against son. Even mother against father. That’s conflict.

The east coast is sinking. I recently saw an article where Boston is having troubles with rising sea levels. They have signs on one street where at high tide the street is flooded. Of course someone is going to have to pay to fix it and the ones that live there don’t want to pay for it.

Living on the west coast, in California, I feel left out. You never see anything about the problems that rising sea levels will cause in California. Near me is a marina where the houses have a boat dock for a back yard. It will not take much of a sea level rise to flood those houses. Of course California is not close to the nation’s capital where all the political action is. It’s like California doesn’t count. The people in Boston had better be concerned. California has the third longest coastline in the U. S. And California has some expensive coastline.

What’s that got to do with writing Steampunk?

Political visibility was worst in the steampunk era. There was only a single railway line connecting the east and the west coast. Telegrams were very expensive. Letters could take weeks to get from one coast to the other. The west coast could fall off into the ocean for all Washington DC could care.

What we need is a steampunk story where California and several neighboring states/territories succeed from the union. Why? What if they were being heavily taxed and not getting anything for the money that’s being taken. Don’t forget that the civil war started income tax. It was not popular, but effected the very rich. What if the politicians got greedy? What if they figured that since California had gold then Californian’s should pay more? The money is being used to pay down the debt that was run up during the civil war and of course to pay for other east coast things (like graft and corruption). Arizona would not succeed, but that’s another story or subplot. Air ships cannot haul a lot of people. With only one railway line through the rocky mountains it would be easy to cut off the military from getting to California. It’s takes months for a ship to get from the east coast to the west coast.

Stop the trains at the top of the Rocky Mountains in the winter and the troops could freeze. Think Donner Pass. All you have to do is blow up the tracks in front of the train and behind the train. Now you have a couple of thousand troops without enough food or water, that’s conflict or a sub plot. The locals in the rocky mountains might turn on the troops if the troops took their food. Many people in the mountains, in the 1800s, were living hand to mouth. Take out a couple of bridges and the troops would be stranded. The train tracks go over some deep gorges. A big airship could haul maybe a hundred troops and some equipment so hauling an invasion force would not work. But Californians were armed and knew how to use their guns. Once the troops get to California they could not just live off the land in California during the winter.

Ad, Wanted Beta Readers. I’ll read your book if you’ll read mine.

If an effort to sell my book here is this week’s recipe.

Bacon pancakes

Ingredients, enough to make about 12 Pancakes:
8 oz bacon
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs yolks, beaten
2 large egg whites
1/2 stick of melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/3 cups milk (use buttermilk if you plan ahead)
Serve with warm maple syrup and soft butter.

Cook bacon.
Drain and cool bacon.
Separate the yolk from the egg whites.
Place dry ingredients in mixing bowl. Add milk and beaten egg yolk. Mix a little. Add egg white and fold in. Do not mix heavily. Leave lumps (adding egg white last and genteelly folding them in makes the pancakes fluffy).
Break bacon into pieces and add to batter

Heat skillet, spoon batter into hot pan. Water will dance on pan if it is hot enough.
Serve and enjoy.

Stay strong, write on, and think revolution.
Professor Hyram Voltage

CoKoCon science fiction convention 2019, Bolg post with pictures

It was a great convention. Of course Phoenix was hot, it is this time of year. We did get some rain and strong wind Sunday afternoon.

I went to many of the writing panels. Didn’t do so well with the page that I submitted to the editor’s panel. I repeat myself, I don’t handle characters well, and keep repeating their names over and over, and they wanted the location of the warehouse closer to the front.

The trouble is I’ve heard this before, on the same piece, from my critique partner.

I’ve tried to do better, and fix the piece and other pieces, but I’m not getting them fixed.

Then I went to the panel on Critiques and one author mentioned that there writers out there that never get better or fix their problems. Now I’m worried that I’m one of those writers. Doomed, doomed, I tell you, to make the same mistakes over and over again.

The show put on by Doctor Sparks was worth it. He had some of the props from the original horror movies. Sparks with ozone, in person.

Phoenix traffic was as bad as I remembered it. No one does the speed limit on I 17 through Phoenix. If I wanted traffic this bad I would’ve stayed in Los Angeles.

We did take some time out to visit Bookmans used book store. Not that far from the convention. Also went through the Brass Armadillo. It is also only a couple of blocks from the convention hotel.

There were panels on moon exploration, bad movies, Filking, AIs, Star Parties, and poison gas.

Pictures starting with Authors

Beth Cato
Judith Staskston
Diana Terrill Clark
Ernest Hogan
Avily Jerome
Arabella Thorne and Ross B. Lampert
In grumpy cat mode
Beth Cato and Gary W. Babb

Voice actor and author
Stepanie Weipport, T. L. Smith, Avily Jerome

Book Sellers and good people

Writing Like It’s 1895

My heroine needs a flashlight. And she needs one bad. It’s 1895 and they don’t exist. After 1900 I could get away with it.

Why didn’t they exist. Not because of batteries. Usable batteries had been developed by 1802 and telegraphs had been using batteries since the 1830s. But dry cells, cheap enough for flashlights would not come along until 1910.

Edison had carbon filaments light bulbs by 1880. But they were delicate and not good for banging around in flashlights. They also needed 90 or so volts and that would take a lot of batteries. Edison thought that tungsten would make a good filament, but the equipment to make fine tungsten wire would not be developed until 1906.

Also there was the problem of vacuum equipment. In 1895 it wasn’t good enough. Any oxygen in the light bulb would react with the filament and shorten its life. That equipment would not be available until after 1900.

People were not setting around. Paid and unpaid inventors, scientist and engineers were working on the light bulb, not just Edison and his lab. There was not just one thing for a mad genius to overcome to make a flashlight in 1895.

How about a carbide miner’s lamp? Carbide is made with electricity. Lots of electricity. The power plant at Niagara Falls would have to be finished before carbide became readily available. That wasn’t until after 1900.

So my heroine can’t just cobble a flashlight up out of things lying around the airship. Also there would be patents fights if she did come up with a flashlight. Just because a idea documented on a patent would never work, that has never stopped an inventor and his lawyers from suing, suing, suing.

There were platinum filament light bulbs. They worked, but they were very expensive. Not practicable, but whoever said the heroine had to be practicable?

Stay strong, write on, and have you checked the batteries in your flashlight lately. Replace them once a year.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Rehash of a Rehash

I’m doing better, busy, but I’m not writing consistently.

I read the other day that Millennials are the loneliest generation. If you look around it’s not hard to understand. In a restaurant, a coffee shop, or in the waiting room. Everyone has their nose buried in cell phone. With their shoulders drawn up, bent over, they have their “Don’t Bother Me” shield up. They’re yelling at everyone around them to leave them alone. They’re not going to make new friends that way.

I’m having trouble finding a book that’s grabbing my attention. I definitely don’t want to read a book about someone who sits around staring at a cell phone all the time. Would you?

But would someone that’s a slave to their cell phone want to read a book about someone that’s meeting people, making friends, doing things? Or are they going to read things that are a rehash of a rehash that has been condensed down to a two second sound bite?

Maybe that’s why Millennials are buying experiences rather than things. Their life is so empty they are trying to fill it with trips, and concerts. Still in the middle of a concert I see people with their nose in a cell phone playing games, ignoring the band and the music. The concert is an excuse to be friendly, a reason to interact with the people around them, and they wall themselves off.

Speaking of experiences, I’m going to a science fiction convention in a couple of weeks. It’s a chance to meet and talk to people. To hear authors I might never consider reading talk about their books. And to see the costumes and props that others have come up with.

I’ll end up buying a couple of books and haunt the dealer’s room. I will have a good time. I will not sit across from someone at lunch and stare at my cell phone.

If your there and see someone watching others, it might be an author. It might be me. You could walk up and ask if I’m an author.

The worst that could happen is I might take your picture.

Stay strong, write on, and get your nose out of the cell phone.

Professor Hyram Voltage

P.S. Is it just me or is good, plain, writing getting harder and harder to find. This is a snippet form a financial article:

The next day, a Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) analyst changed her opinion of Weight Watchers from underperform to buy. She also raised her one-year price target to $27, which the stock blew bay later that same day when it crested above $30.

They fired the editor and even the admin assistant, so there is no one left to review the article before it is published on line. The group that posted the article is selling advice. Expensive advice. Would you buy advice from someone that doesn’t have editors, that doesn’t double check the work posted on their web site?

Being lean and mean, means being error prone.

We Don’t Talk Any More

I operate an amateur radio station. I talk to people around the world. Or I use to. The world changed.

I grew up on an Indian (Amerindians) reservation. Our house was a quarter mile from the paved road. You had to go another quarter mile to get to the little village where 80 or so people lived. The next nearest town was across the state line.

As a small child I was forbidden to walk that last quarter mile to the village/town. I could see the houses of the village from where we lived, but they could have been on the moon.

People must have thought I was nuts, I liked school. There were others at school to play with, to talk to.

We had a TV (black and white). I remember watching Zoorama broadcast from the San Diego Zoo. We didn’t have a radio.

When I discovered radio, I discovered that you could not only listen to someone talking, but certain people had radios and they could talk to other people. I was all in.

This was in the late 1950s, early 1960s. The telephone in our house was for business and not a toy. Everything about a telephone cost money. You couldn’t even own a telephone, you rented it from Ma Bell.

So I got into Ham radio. I’ve talked to many people and have a great time.

The radio conditions vary due to the sun in an eleven year cycle. You have a string of good years followed by a string of bad years. We are in the bottom of the cycle where it’s hard to talk to people far away form you. That doesn’t mean I don’t try. I get on the radio and call and call. Lately I haven’t been making any contacts.

I just got back from a radio conference and at the conference I found that I’m not the only one that is having this problem.

Digital has invaded my hobby. It goes by the name of FT-8 and it’s like texting. Instead of talking to someone you type in some basic information. It’s worst than texting. It does allow you to contact people when condition will not allow contacts with the old ways, like voice or with Morse code. But like texting, it’s sterile, impersonal, and you’re only allowed to send a tiny bit of information. It’s just not friendly. It’s one step above junk mail.

Terry Patchett touched on this in his book Going Postal, where the clacks (a telegraph that used light signals) replaced the post office. The line in the story where a letter could be “sealed with a kiss” really stuck with me. It’s a lot more work to pick up the microphone and talk to someone ratter than send them a canned message. Can you care about someone if all you do is send them the equivalent of junk mail?

Would you rather read about someone who talks to the people they care about. I don’t think I would care about a character that just texts the important people in her life. The character need to show they care, and that’s not easy, it takes work.

When you look a child in the eye and say “I Love You”, that counts more than a million texts.

That’s what I want to show in my books.

Stay strong, write on, and you can’t say I love you too many times.
Professor Hyram Voltage

What if the device doesn’t work?

Time and again I have read a story where the steampunk inventor creates a device, at the last minute or there would be no suspense, that saves the day.

Is this trope becoming a clique? The villain has a time machine that always delivers him to the right time or reasonably close to the right time. The battery never runs down, or the device doesn’t even needs a battery (free energy). Free energy would be worth more than the time machine and without the risk of getting stuck back in time. The past is a nasty place.

How about current technology. You never hear of a gun not firing. Even today handguns don’t always go off. I’ve been on the firing range and pulled the trigger and the gun has not gone off. Do I have a slow burning round. You hold the gun down range and count. Then you unload a round that could go off at any time. They tell you to pick up a round, that could go off in your hand, and check to see if the primer was struck. OK, the primer was struck, the gun did not fail, but I’m holding a round in my hand that could go off at any time.

This was factory ammunition from a major manufacturer. I don’t buy ammo from them any more.

This happens in combat. You are the line in some foreign country. Ten or twelve enemy combatants are dug in front of you. You call up a manpack (a shoulder launched rocket). You pop the covers off the ends of the manpack and sight in. Pull the trigger and nothing happens. On your shoulder is a weapon that cost a good fraction of a million dollars, and it didn’t work

What do you do. You yell for another manpack before the enemy can take off to kill another day, and you may be the one they kill next time. Thankfully the second manpack worked.

Would anybody believe your story if the weapon failed. They might not. Guns always fire on TV. Cowboys always have bullets and never reload. Everyone has machine guns and always hit their targets and never run out of ammo.

There is a true story of a submarine captain firing two torpedoes at a enemy ship. One torpedo went off. He fired ten more torpedoes at the unmoving ship. Only one more went off. His command did not believe he fired competently. A lot of Americans died before they realized that the torpedoes had a problem with the firing pin.

Having fantastic weapons is great, but those weapons will not always work or work only in special cases.

Guns are not magic, and yes a bow and arrow can take out a man with a machine gun. It’s not something you want to do, but it is possible.

Stay strong, write on, and keep your weapon clean.

Professor Hyram Voltage.

Genius is in the mind, Stupidity goes all the way to the bone.

On Being A Writer and Selfish

Sorry for the last two Mondays. I missed posting and feel bad about that. I had family business to settle and a friends affairs to take care of.

I needed time to morn. Time to bring closure to a family member and a friend.

In the last two weeks I have driven 2500 miles in four days. Moved tons of books and personal belonging. Dealt with hard emotions.

Part of that driving was in a Texas thunder storm with driving rain. The roads in Texas, I was on, do not have the plastic reflector to mark the lanes. With a half inch or more of water on the road it’s hard to see the faded white paint marks between lanes. Combine this with pulling a trailer with a small pickup makes for a lot of stress. Do this at 11:00 PM and I should have my head examined.

When you tell a child “You’ll always be there” or a friend “I have your back” is the greatest thing you can say. But you can’t do it. You are a living being. You have needs and wants. As a writer you need time to write. It is not bad to take time to write or to live your life. You can’t be a slave.

I try to balance the selfishness of my time with making the most of any time I have. Don’t just go hang out with friends. Make the most of your time with friends. You don’t know how long your friends will be around. Suddenly they can be gone, even if they are younger than you are.

It is not wrong, evil, or even bad to take time for yourself. It is wrong to take all your time for yourself, but that is a different blog.

Use your time well, morn those who have passed, Carpe Deim (seize the day, but plan for the future. Planning is the best way to make the most of your time, squeeze every second, get the most out of your life).

Stay strong, write on, and Carpe Diem.

Professor Hyram Voltage

I Lost A Friend

I was on my way to lunch today when I got a call on the cell phone. Five minutes earlier a friend had passed away.

Unexpected, well not totally unexpected. He was my high school English teacher. He had a few health problems and was recovering from a bout of pneumonia.

A wave of loneliness hit me after hearing he had passed. I have a hard time making friends and I have lost several recently. It’s hard making friends. I don’t want to replace him, but I don’t want to be isolated and alone.

So to honor my old high school English teacher I’m going to finish by next book and dedicate it to him. That means I’ll have to finish another book so I can dedicate it to my father. I was going to dedicate the next book to my father, but it seems fitting that I dedicate this one to my teacher.

It’s funny. I was never a very good English student. The rule are so confusing and varied and there are so many exceptions and interpretations of the English language. So this one is for you, teacher. Who every thought I would write a book, let alone several.

If you get a chance, read my book and see what you think. If you like it tell someone else. If you don’t like it tell me why and I just might change it.

Teacher, may the stones be soft beneath your feet, may the road be full of friends and lined with helping hands. May it always lead forward. Fair winds and following seas old friend, you’ve weathered enough gales.

Stay strong, write on, old friend.

Professor Hyram Voltage.

Don’t Be Casey At The Bat

When you’re looking for ideas, value every idea that comes your way. Ideas may everywhere, but each is worth more than you can ever pay. You are constantly being bombarded by ideas. Admire each idea as the precious gem that it is.

You remember the poem about Casey. He let the first pitch go by because he thought it was too low, he ignored the second pitch because it was not his style. He put everything into the last pitch. He had no choices left. Don’t do it. Ideas are not hard thrown fast balls that the pitcher wants you to miss.

When someone gives you an idea they want you to have it, not miss it. The idea is invaluable, you can’t buy it. It’s something that you might not have thought of. The experiences of the person giving it to you are different from yours, their background may compliments yours or be totally different. Don’t blow the idea off, it may be the home run you’re looking for.

Ideas are not balls. They change and can be molded into something unrecognizable. You can combine two, three, ten ideas into one. One that no one, has very thought of like that. And don’t believe that everyone has thought of everything.

It’s work to combine ideas. It’s hard to sort through ideas looking for one that’s usable. And that’s the key, finding one that’s usable, not perfect. But is your work and that makes the finial idea, your idea. If you ask someone to give you an idea or help you with an idea they are giving you something that is the most valuable thing they can give you. A piece of themselves, a piece of their background, their beliefs, a bit of their most strongly held secrets and insights. If someone gives you a piece of their soul, treat it like the most valuable thing you can every be given. Combine it, expand it, grow it into the most beautiful thing can can be.

It is not a bad thing to ask for help, to ask for an idea. It is a crime to ignore a freely given ideas. You can not buy ideas, but they are not free. You have to work to find ideas and once found you have to work with those ideas. And remember Casey struck out waiting for the perfect pitch to be handed to him. But don’t hesitated to swing for the bleacher.

There are places to look for ideas where they will be more plentiful. It won’t be on you cell phone. There you will find entertainment, not things that make you think. It won’t be on your streaming service. Again that’s to pacify the masses. Go to where the masses don’t go. The dull old history books. The old stories and legends, even the bible. Go to the silly places, like Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader.

Stay Strong, write on, and collect, mash up, and grow ideas that are given to you.

Professor Hyram Voltage.

A Black-bordered Letter

It’s an old tradition from the German side of my family. The envelope had a black border around it. That was a sign to the post office and anyone getting the letter that the letter was about someone dying.

It’s much better than calling someone and telling them to “sit down” pause “I have have some bad news”. I’ve had to do that a lot lately.

The letter inside would also have a black border, then a few simple words about someone’s passing. Even back in the 1800s you couldn’t put your grief into words on the page.

If you read some of these letters from the 1800s you will find that even as sad as the beginning of the letter is the writer would not waste the money or time it cost to send the letter with just bad news. I remember one where after the news about someone passing, the letter went on with how everyone was doing well and that there was an enclosed homemade blanket. The old line “We the living have to go on” means a lot. Survivor guilt was just as strong back then as it is now.

What does this have to do with writing steam punk? When your character receives a letter add the little things to it. Is the letter sealed with a kiss. Is there a heart in the corner of the letter or more boldly in the front corner of the envelope. A red heart was very risqué. What stamp did they use. That could have a huge symbolic meaning. Was the letter sealed with a stamp or a wax seal. Wax seals were old fashioned but embossed seals were the rage at one time. All these things could mean a multitude of things, and in a mystery if all that was left of the letter was the burnt corner with a black edge or a red heart could hint at so much.

Don’t forget that paper was fantastically expensive. Even at a penny a sheet. Ten cents could get you a good room and a meal. The old cowboy legend that he kept a $20 dollar bill in the last hole in his six shooter to pay for his funeral. A funeral now cost five or six thousand dollars. People did not waste money on an envelope, they folded the letter up in the shape of an envelope with the blank side out, and sealed it with glue or other ways. We think nothing of putting a letter in an envelope, but we are so rich compared to someone in the 1800s, yet now-a-days both parents have to work and only the super rick can afford a cook, maid, or housekeeper.

Don’t think of a letter as a simple prop. Getting a letter was a big thing and there was a lot of unwritten emotion in a letter. The simple “Why did she write a letter?” could have so many layers.

Stay strong, write on, and surprise someone and write them a letter.

Professor Hyram Voltage