I had the great pleasure of attending some of Shelley Adina’s lectures on creative writing. In addition to being a phenomenal teacher, Shelley is an extraordinarily kind woman who will let weirdos with websites interview her. I didn’t even have to take any chickens hostage (though apparently, “The Silkie Mafia” comes armed with lightning pistols, so…)
Shelley Adina is the author of 24 novels published by Harlequin, Warner, and Hachette, and a dozen more published by Moonshell Books, Inc., her own independent press. She writes steampunk, contemporary romance, and young adult fiction, and as Adina Senft, writes women’s fiction set among the Amish and other plain communities. She won the Romance Writers of America RITA Award® for Best Inspirational Novel in 2005, was a finalist in 2006, and in 2009 was a Christy Award finalist.
When she’s not writing, Shelley is usually quilting, sewing historical costumes, or enjoying the garden with her flock of rescued chickens.
Her latest Magnificent Devices story comes out on the 19th and it looks like this:
Here’s my full interview with Ms. Shelley Adina:
L.J.: What brought you to Steampunk?
S.A.: Would you believe the Wild Wild West TV show back in the 1960s?
L.J.: YouTube says it’s like James Bond on horseback. I can believe it.
S.A.: I loved the adventure in the Wild West, the trick gadgets, the derring-do of it all. Because I was the oldest, when we recreated the episodes after school, I always had to be James West. But I wanted to be Artemus Gordon because he got to invent the cool stuff. Carry that forward several decades, and I’m inventing cool stuff in my imagination now.
L.J.: I’ve been making people define Steampunk all month, but you’ve actually defined it in the past really succinctly as “high technology in the Victorian age,” but you write in the Regency as well. Does the era matter?
S.A.: Since the steam engine was invented by Richard Trevithick in 1807 or thereabouts, the age of steam falls both in the Regency and in the Victorian age. For writers focusing on both eras, steam matters. But what also matters is the punk element—the element of subversion of authority and fighting for independence, especially among women. While it may be easy to imagine Victorian ladies getting up to subversive activities in a time that saw the likes of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Viscountess Amberley, the Regency had its share, too, like Ada Lovelace (born 1815), the first computer programmer. Steampunks know this, and celebrate it in the characters and art we create for ourselves.
L.J.: What do you think caused the Steampunk movement?
S.A.: In a world that’s so high-tech, where you can have relationships with people you never meet in person, the hands-on, “I made this” aspect of steampunk is very appealing. The maker communities are large and active, sharing a community build of a steam-powered motorcycle or a particularly attractive bustle design for a dress. The art of it brings like-minded people together, and there’s a real appeal in sharing a common weirdness 🙂 That speaks to me as a writer, too, because I’m building a community around characters who embody that brave, punk aspect of the movement.
L.J.: As a reader, do you think Steampunk leans more dystopian or utopian? As a writer which way do your books tend to swing and why?
S.A.: I’ve read steampunk in both flavors. Being an optimist at heart, I prefer the utopian. My heroines get what they want because they’re clever, brave, and compassionate. My worlds, while they might be broken in some ways, still have room for happiness if one is brave enough to create it. Maybe that’s a bit of my life philosophy, too.
L.J.: I really like that as a life philosophy. Can you tell us more about your books?
S.A.: The Magnificent Devices series numbers 12 books, followed by four “manor house” novellas that continue the adventures in a much smaller, more domestic way. Because, you know, the adventures don’t stop after the wedding 🙂
Then there is my spinoff steampunk mystery series, Mysterious Devices, which follows the adventures of Daisy and Freddie Linden, two young ladies from Bath who are searching for their father. He went missing in Book 11 of the larger series. Along the way they solve murders, missing persons cases, and espionage cases. As one does, in steampunk.
L.J.: Last thing, because I don’t want your chickens to get out and start robbing banks without their mom keeping an eye on them, what are your top five Steampunk favs?
The Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld
The Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest
The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
The Baskerville Affair series by Emma Jane Holloway
And a delightful French movie called Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec that is based on a comic book series
Elizabeth writes YA Fantasy and has published through EvernightTeen, (which is the innocent little sister of Evernight Publishing who releases most of my smut…I mean stories.)
Anyways, Ellie wrote Justice Unending—a YA fantasy/steampunk novel with a lot of really cool mystic elements as well. So I thought I’d reach out and see if she would talk to us dirty birds about Steampunk.
According to Elizabeth:
Since I’m coming in at the tail end of steampunk month, I’m sure all your readers would agree that steampunk can almost be anything! I think the only universal in steampunk is the aesthetic—the steampower, the industrialism, and some maybe-historical-maybe-fake-Victorian feel. But there’s alternate-history steampunk and steampunk that’s basically Victoriana science fiction. It can be based in the real world or just set in one that’s up to its nose in airships and steam trains. It’s all good!
Top Steampunk books/movies/etc. that influenced you?
• The entire Parasol Protectorate series is am-AAAAAAAAA-zing!
• Bioshock Infinite is a steampunk videogame, and it absolutely blew me away.
• The Something Strange and Deadly series is rough around the edges, but it has zombies! Steampunk and zombies!
• Agatha H and the Clockwork City is a novelization of a webcomic, and I admit that I haven’t read the comic (and the second book wasn’t my favorite.) So while I can’t say I know much about the actual series, this book did come at an opportune time for me. I read it just as I was really getting deep into editing Justice, and the world-building was just so quirky. It really inspired me on my journey with my own fantasy-steampunk.
I first got into steampunk for the aesthetic, honestly. I love corsets, lovely dresses, and ridiculous hats (and yes, yes, I know the largest and most glorious hats are Edwardian!) All this led me to steampunk festivals. And then, because I wanted a costume, the first thing I ever learned to sew was good ol’ Simplicity 2712
Then it was books like Something Strange and Deadly and Agatha H and the Airship City, and then… well, I wanted to write something myself!
Steampunk just falls into a really cozy place for me. On one hand, it lets you play with a lot of really modern, familiar-feeling concepts, with a technology-rich world and some modern conveniences. On the other, it’s still distant enough that you don’t have telephones or television, which really make the world feel… small, I guess. Like it’s all known, and all visible, and all discoverable.
And since Justice Unending is essentially a steampunk-fantasy with corsets and trains and crazy inventors (and possession!), it just hits on a really fun mix of industrial but not modern, technological but full of magic. It’s fun!
I’ve read a lot more dystopic steampunk than utopian ones. (I’m… not sure I’ve read any, actually. I’d love to!) And that’s not too hard to understand—the real Victorian age was brutal, so it’s easy to get caught up in the “no workers’ rights, child labor everywhere, robber barons galore” elements.
And as much as I’d like a chipper steampunk, mine isn’t! I’d describe Justice Unending is a false utopia. Brittany Bastion, where the book is set, is genuinely a pretty nice place: it’s a completely sealed-off country, protected from the mysterious, Wilds that lie beyond its walls. And while the Wilds are lawless and savage—and obviously not a topic of polite teatime conversation—Brittany is a genuinely peaceful, prosperous place. It’s just one that expects sacrifices, and one of the most important relates to the spirits called the Unending. These bodiless, immortal spirits are the lifeblood of Brittany and keep it safe from harm. And since they don’t have their own bodies, they have to incarnate in a human’s—and then they’re sharing the body and fighting for control of it. When you get chosen, the only socially acceptable thing to do is to march yourself down to the capital, where you’ll be gently, kindly, asphyxiated to death so that the spirit can use your body for themselves.
Brittany’s society accepts this as the price of peace—that sometimes your friends and families get chosen, and that this is sad, but ultimately good for everyone—so it’s only when the main character, Faye, is possessed that she starts to learn about why this system was put in place and what it means to all the people who were killed before her. And she learns that it’s not what it seems, and that this seemingly fundamental part of their society is rooted in a lot of unpleasant, dark history. It’s not exactly a raging dystopia, but it’s definitely a world built on ugliness.
In Justice Unending, Faye, a stubborn, tomboyish teenager has her sister chosen by one of the Unending. This is supposed to be a joyous occasion—and her family and neighbors all try very hard—but Faye, being stubborn, refuses to accept that her sister has to die. So she goes to try and see her before the ritual is completed.
Instead, she instead bumbles right into the middle of a murder and is promptly chosen as the next body by the Mad Immortal, Aris, an Unending who has spent the last several hundred years trying to bring the Bastion down from within, mostly by committing horrible murders. And this leaves Faye with two equally awful choices: she could turn herself in and let herself be killed (which is obviously not a great choice) or she can try to escape, even though just about everyone in the Bastion would turn her in to the capital if they knew who was inside her.
And she has to do all of this with a murderer inside her who is fighting her for her body and very much wants to continue their fight against the Bastion. It’s very much an action-adventure!
Michael Butcher is also being published in the Fantasist this month. He says he writes fantasy stories somewhere in the blasted wastelands of Western Australia and that he’s bee successfully avoiding roaming packs of raiders, but I think we all know better. He’s leading those damned packs which is why I’m afraid to Americanize his spelling.
According to Mike:
Although I don’t consider myself a steampunk writer, I enjoy the potential for storytelling the genre provides. It’s a genre that revels in the idea of exploring new frontiers of the physical world and of science, and perhaps magic. For readers, it may be a sort of interest in history, of alternate timelines or simply the aesthetic. It’s a genre that can perfectly blend fantasy and science fiction with a strong spirit of adventure. I can see why it is so popular.
Steampunk is an aspect of the retro-futurism art movement, a movement that basically imagines how certain eras of the past might imagine their own future. In steampunk’s case, typically the future with a distinctly Victorian or Edwardian flavour. The genre is ripe for criticising the class distinctions of the era along with unethical scientific endeavors and the hubris of inventors, entrepreneurs, “captains of industry” etc. Frankenstein could be considered a precursor to Steampunk because of the way Mary Shelley worked fantastical science fiction elements into a cautionary tale of arrogance in a world where advances in science seemingly make everything possible. Also there’s lots of gas powered lamps and steam powered everythings.
One of steampunk’s primary real-life influences was the industrial revolution, a period of growth and possibility but also of wealth inequality and labour exploitation. I can’t help but imagine that underneath a glittering, marvelous, steam-powered metropolis, there wouldn’t be a vastly exploited working class. I think that tension is one of the more appealing aspects of steampunk, or retro-futurism as a whole concept. For me, there’s a cautionary aspect to it, a just-cos’-you-could warning about pushing the limits of science into the unknown and what horrible things that might reveal to us.
A steampunk city is a city built on the idea of limitless potential, the underlying feeling that it could collapse into a dystopic nightmare at just the right push is one of my favourite things about it, and it is what I will enjoy writing about the most as I continue to tell more tales in this world I’m building with this work!
The Thief’s Darling is a novella I started writing late in 2017. I didn’t actually set out to write a steampunk story.
[L.J. exclaims on first read: What! But it has gas lamps? It’s totally steampunk.]
Originally, it was going to be much more of a classical fantasy setting, with the weird science aspects replaced with more traditional, occult magic shtick, but I was doing quite a lot of research into the practices of alchemists in preparation for the writing process and was really interested in alchemy, in the early modern period, as a precursor to modern day chemistry and the effects it had on science as a whole. Also, I do like the aesthetic of gas lamps.
It is the story of five sisters who are master alchemists living in the run-down town of Wadlock, a once vibrant place that has fallen on hard times. The sisters, led by Enith, are attempting to create the perfect man by distilling the essence of romance novels down and transmuting them into a man who is sort of the amalgamation of a whole range of pulp romance novel “hunks”. His name is Troy.
[L.J.: As someone who writes these romance novels, I am all about this premise. But if we get this technology IRL, I think we have to name him “Chris” because of the inordinate amount of sexy Chrises.]
Most of the sisters are partaking in the project for a laugh and to spend time together, but it certainly seems to mean something entirely different for Enith.
They have hired a thief, a young woman named Cady “Nine-Lives”, a scrappy sort of sixteen-year-old who is trying to pull together enough money to skip town. One night, during a raid on the local library, she runs afoul of the librarian, an old man with an affinity for classic romance novels who also hides a bloody and tragic past. Cady accidentally burns down the library which puts her life and the life of Troy into jeopardy.
My intention was to create a story that subverts the reader’s expectations. There seems to be a sort of culture of disdain surrounding women who read romance novels (or just anything women enjoy en masse).
[L.J.: you said it, brother!]
Most of the story is told through the eyes of Cady, a teenager who carries that same disdain, and so she tends to view the sisters as “gross” or “wrong” for their reading habits, but as we explore the character of the sisters more, it is suggested that not only do some find a sense of comfort in reading and appreciating romantic fiction, but also find good-natured community and sisterly bonding.
I met Van at Seton Hill where we instantly clicked and became intellectual lovers, which is like real lovers, but without the sex. Or the knowing each other very well. Okay, mostly we just get excited by the same things. Which is basically the same as being in love.
Van Essler is a yoga junkie with a tarot collection who makes friends with her dreams, whether they are sweet reveries or nightmares. She won the Founder’s Award from the Professional Writers of Prescott for fiction and has publications in Story Emporium Magazine, Zimbell house anthologies, and Z-composition.
Her story “Chasing the Eleusinian” is a play on the girl pretending to be a cabin boy trope only it happens on an airship with some steampunked Greek mythology flair.
According to Van:
Jess Nevins once said “Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown” and I am that goth.
I have always been fascinated by the Victorian era. The period’s corsets and etiquette in a sharp contrast to harsh realities of the Industrial Revolution had an irresistible allure. I discovered Bram Stoker’s Dracula at thirteen, and immediately dove into research of anything Victorian and dark, from Jack the Ripper to arsenic green dye.
About ten years ago, I read my first steampunk in the way of short fiction in an online zine. I was instantly sucked in by the Victorian aesthetic, but even more entranced with how the authors used the steam technology in the stories. Inspiration struck, and I just had to write the Steampunk stories that flooded my head. It was kismet.
My top five Steampunk influences are:
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest – a mesmerizing steampunk novel featuring a strong female protagonists and zombies in early Seattle.
Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeves – Seriously, cities eating cities. What else can I say but I love the whole concept of this novel.
Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina – An amazing tale with a smart and strong female protagonist utilizing her inventive skills in the mean streets of London.
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling – An exploration into an alternative Victorian world where the computer has been invented, complete with mystery/thriller fast paced plot.
Howls Moving Castle directed by Hayao Miyazaki – A brilliant film that mixes a Steampunk Edwardian aesthetic with witches and sorcerers. If you have kids, this is a great one to cuddle up on the couch and watch with them.
[Behind the scenes, L.J. says: Damn it, that counts? I want Howl’s on my list too. That’s a great film.
Van: It should be on your list! I love that movie on so many levels. It really shows how versatile the genre can be.
L.J.: But I published my list last week…
Van: But isn’t this like three weeks in advance.
L.J.: Anyways, what the Hell is Steampunk?]
As a formal definition, I would say that Steampunk is speculative fiction set in Victorian or Edwardian periods, often alternative versions on those times, that reflect the values and challenges of those eras. Typically, the steam technology of the time period is changed to retro-futuristic imaginings or there are variations to the recorded timeline with alternative historical events. Steampunk has also morphed into an aesthetic—a sort of vibe or style that can apply to any story. If it has brass goggles and airships, more than likely it will be considered steampunk.
I feel that so much of the Victorian time period mirrors today’s society; both eras had rapid jumps in technology that drastically alter their culture. Steampunk speaks to me as a writer as a way to explore our current world by pulling from that rich history. Also, the amount of delightful world-building and researching I get to embark on is a perk.
[L.J.: Perk for you, torture for me, lady. You can keep it.
Van: C’mon, you know you can’t resist the research rabbit hole.
L.J.: I can and I will.
Van: Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.
L.J.: *Mutters and growls with incoherent annoyance, then returns to research Prussian wigs.*]
Steampunk resonates with audiences on a nostalgic level as well as feeling aligned with our current world. There’s something so appealing about a past we feel a part of and yet have never seen. I also think that much of the steam-powered technology of Steampunk feels more human in a sense. Cogs and gears assembled to run a device seem far more accessible to us than motherboards and microchips. We can create and put together the parts of Steampunk, while the overly sleek and perfect technology of today is beyond the capabilities of our own hands.
The conflicts of the Victorian era are ripe to twist and bend into bleak societies. Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines has cities literally eating each other for survival, which feels ten shades of dystopic from the first line. Of course, I probably notice the more dystopian works within the subgenre due to my preference of darker themed fiction.
I’ve never been the utopic type of storyteller. I’m always far more interested in characters that face obstacles not only on a personal level, but must overcome the hand dealt to them by the world they live in. I’m sure others would argue they prefer to focus on an individual’s struggle in a society that runs pretty much like clockwork (pun intended), and they should. The more variation we can creatively explore, the better. As for me, I’ll keep to the shadows.
Which is why my most recent Steampunk story “Chasing the Eleusinian” is a little dark. It’s a short story mixing airships with a bit of Greek Mythology. Sam, a girl disguised as a cabin boy aboard The Dire Crimson, sails the skies in search of the legendary Eleusinian ship run with automations. But if she can’t keep her gender concealed from the misogynist first mate, her sky faring days will abruptly end.
I was brought to Steampunk a little late to the game, probably by The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Hellboy (which might not be Steampunk…). I really wish I could say books, or music, or even the fashion brought me into the fold, but I was really not aware of Steampunk until it went mainstream enough to have movies. But that look is so cool, I incorporated the sci-fi element into my ghost tour uniform (a black skirt, corset, cape, and top hat) pretty quickly.
My top five Steampunk influences are:
The DIY fashionistas. I regularly google steampunk just to see the new retrofuture stuff that exists on the internet.
H.G. Wells, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s speculative fiction (particularly Doyle’s illustrations).
Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.
Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel, Neverwhere. I know, it’s not really steampunk, but damn it, it feels like it to me.
The Legend of Korra which also… might not count, but I don’t care about your labels!
The official (i.e., Wikipedia) definition is a science fiction/fantasy work which uses 19th-century designs and technology like steam and clockwork, but for me, Steam-punk is a chance to talk about the modern-day issues by making them relevant to our history. Only without all the limits of actual history (you know, like not having instant communication, or gay rights, or laser guns).
I’ll also add that I’ve always had a somewhat tenuous grasp of history. I was convinced Italians still wore togas until I was in middle school. Part of the problem was that I grew up near the Amish and a Native American reservation. My mom used to watch a lot of Anne of Avonlea, and Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman and something Victorian that I suspect was the BBC. I was utterly unable to differentiate them from the modern day, so I assumed that Canadians, Coloradans, and the British actually acted and dressed that way. I realized this wasn’t true by the time I started reading Robert Lewis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle, but I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t get on a plane and step out and explore Victorian London. Steampunk was a natural fit for my skewed understanding of history and time periods.
I think it appeals particularly to female readers. There’s a very exciting genre of adventure/exploration stories that girls kinda got left out of. Steampunk, which always seems to very extremely cool female leads, lets women particulate in that era of progress as changers and not just spectators.
Steampunk is also really interesting because it lives in a positive time period that precedes one of the most violent and destructive eras in history. So, no matter what advancements a writer creates in a Victorian London, the reader has this background feeling that in a few years WWI is going to happen and be made all the more horrific for these advancements. I think, the era of progress appeals to people who want to write utopias and that might be why so many good Steampunk plots stem from trying to prevent WWI (and I think in our modern minds preventing WW2 and the Holocaust). Personally, I always found it kind of cheating when a single villainous mastermind orchestrates something as complicated as “The War to End All War,” but then again it started as a seemingly random assignation…
But thinking about WWI and progress and classism, and that bright-eyed Utopian ideal in Steampunk, really got my cogs turning for The Scribbling Windhund. I’m not writing about the past in my story in The Fantasist, so I sort of cheated as a steampunk writer. My story takes place in a future where climate change destroyed our current globalized world and forced us into segregated environmental domes where all counties had to reform their old pre-industrial identities. So, Germany becomes Prussia and again reflects the ideals of Fredrick the Great: service to the state, near worship of art and culture, but also a very heavy reliance on its military. Prussia is a very safe sector, where artists and craftsmen are the most highly prized citizens, and over half the population acts as the military/police force supervising the community to keep them from engaging in harmful behaviors.
You know, like being too gay.
The main character, Otto Lang, is pretty comfortable in this utopic state until he’s asked to interview a terrorist who’s been imprisoned for fourteen years for kidnapping the last Prussian princess. Throughout their interviews, Otto begins to question everything he believes about his sector, and his government, and his life. Eventually, well, I won’t spoil it because you can read it for free here.
The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.
And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!
The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.
And this month, one of them is mine!
The Scribbling Windhund
Way back in the spring-time, I finished this novella just in time to send it into a Steampunk themed issue of The Fantasist. I didn’t have particularly high hopes; since I wasn’t sure a futuristic version of colonial-era Prussia about the impact of climate change, with very dark moral undertones narrated by a mechanical dog counted as steam-punk. I’m not really sure what Steampunk is. I know it when I see it… sorta.
The guest editor, Megan O’Keefe, was open to a wide interpretation of steampunk and my little love story managed to sneak into The Fantasist. In order to celebrate, I thought I’d bring you an exploration of Steam-punk.
I’m going to be showcasing the Steam-punk that inspired my story. There’s going to be music, movies, artwork, and more than a few author interviews.
Also you can find my steampunk story, The Scribbling Windhund, here.
Naida Bouche foolishly thought she could live as if she was only human. Her true nature hung over her like a thunderhead, driving a wedge between her and her husband.
Cooper Martin had no idea why his ex-wife divorced him. He’d treated her like a goddess. And they had no problems in the intimacy department.
Fate brings them together again. Old emotions flare to life. Can Naida see beyond her self-perceived faults and allow the flames to reignite the love she and Coop feel for one another?
Water cascaded off her nude body. Small rivulets ran over her breasts and down her slightly rounded stomach, disappearing into the surface of the lake.
She was one with the water.
She could, literally, become one with it.
Moonlight reflected off the mirror-smooth surface, adding a soft glow to the night.
Crickets serenaded her with their chirping song. The cicadas added their buzzing to the symphony. There were a lot of cicadas, hence the name of the lake. A wolf howled in the distance. Nature cocooned her.
She grinned and dove under. Liquid embraced her, still heated by the sun’s rays from earlier in the day. Her body became insubstantial, fragmenting into molecules of H2O. Disorientation left her bewildered, but the feeling came and went. Weightless warmth enveloped her, and the ebb and flow of the tide lulled her into blissful relaxation.
The moon slid across the sky. Hours had passed. Her body became corporeal with a single thought. After regaining her human form, she cut through the water with powerful strokes and rose to the surface in a rush of bubbles.
The night air chilled her damp skin, raising goose pimples along her flesh. She pushed the long fall of hair from her face and glanced into the deep, lush woods that ringed the lake. Soon the leaves would change to shades of gold, orange, red, and brown. In would come the autumnal chill. Her time in the waters would decrease, and then winter would set in and freeze her out.
When that happened, she’d resort to the swimming pool located on the basement level of her large home. Even with the greenery she had sprinkled about, it never fully replaced the exhilaration of the lake, the feel of fresh air against her skin, and the scent of the wilderness.
She repeated the cycle, year after year. The monotony had long since worn short on her nerves.
She had someone in her life, someone to break the monotony.
More accurately, she would only have him until the end of the day.
Tonight would be the last night they would be together. She’d tell him that they were over and done with. The sad part of the whole shitty deal was she couldn’t really give him a reason why.
How could he understand? Hell, she’d have trouble believing the truth, if it wasn’t her life.
The root of their problems were otherworldly, as her father was human and her mother was a water nymph.
The nymph side of her heritage presented two problems. First, she needed daily contact with water. The more the better. Like her pool in the basement. Second, she also needed sex … a lot. Preferably once or twice a day. After all, the term “nymphomaniac” had been born of a nymph’s sex drive.
They had a lot of sex, but there were times when their hectic lives interfered with his libido. He was human and his sex drive was human.
She couldn’t guess how he’d react if she said, “I’m a nympho which means we have to have sex all the time. Day and night. Over and over and over.”
He wouldn’t understand it and she’d allowed it to build a wall between them.
No, he had never known the truth of her desires.
She had pushed him away, afraid of exposing her real self.
And that fear, that uncertainty, would leave her alone … and needy.
LM Spangler lives in South Central Pennsylvania with her husband, daughter, three dogs, a cat, a rabbit, and some fish. Her son serves his country in the US Navy.
She is a fan of college football and any kind of baseball and likes to watch the Discovery, Velocity, HGTV, DIY, Science, and any channel showing a college football game. She also watches old game shows like $25,000 Pyramid and Match Game.
Hello, and thank you so much for having me here today to talk about my new release, Spice & Vanilla. This is the darker, naughtier sister of my previous release, Woman as a Foreign Language, but it can be read as a complete stand alone.
The BDSM element in Spice and Vanilla came about in part because I had just finished reading Katerina Ross’ beautiful novel Tenderly Wicked, so I was in the mood for something a bit spicier than my previous release, and partly because I had this idea for Raphael, the main character, that he would be “in two minds about anything”. He’s gender-fluid, bisexual, and as it turns out, a switch (he is in fact the sort of character that can piss off absolutely every reader on earth, lol).
I always like sex scenes to carry some of the character building in my stories. I think sex is one of the most visceral things we do in life, and the way we have sex with different people and different sex with the same people at different times can say a lot about us, about our feelings for our partners and where we are in a relationship. You can put so much more than smut in a sex scene (although a good amount of smut is most welcome), and when you stray into BDSM that potential for character exploration rises tenfold, because there are so many more layers to it. Why do we feel the need, in a caring, loving relationship, for giving or receiving pain? Why do power and humiliation become a turn on, even a necessity, at certain times? And can these things add more to our relationships than just a passing kinky thrill? Can they possibly become a way to express feelings we don’t have words for? I do not pretend to have full answers to these questions, but I did enjoy searching for them in the company of such complex characters as Raphael and Hugh.
Time was, when Di could dance all night. Time was, when she could ride any horse in the stable. Time was when she had a fiancée, a future and a home she loved. Until a silver SUV came out of nowhere and broke her life in half.
Well concealed under a sarcastic, spiny hide, Hugh has a darkly romantic, passionate soul. Torn between love and terror, he’s held the talented, elegant, magnetic Raphael carefully at arm’s length since the day they met.
Male or female, men or women, kinky or sweet, top or bottom? Angel or devil? Raphael’s life is a string of unanswered questions. And Lucie, his long-hidden female self, may bring it all together or destroy everything he has.
Be warned: cross-dressing, gender-queer, explicit M/M and M/F sex, anal sex, spanking, flogging, bondage, forced orgasm, sex toys
Hugh watched him stroking away with great contentment. He was totally worn out after a crazy day at work, and it was not always easy to find the energy to satisfy such an enthusiastic masochist. There were days when he wished Raphael were a bit less fond of being spanked and whipped, but he always did his best to oblige him. The thought of his Raphael going out there looking for release from God-only-knows-whom, and getting hurt for real by some less scrupulous or talented Dom was just unbearable. Still, tonight he would lie back and relax. Mostly. I will have to help him eventually, he thought with a slightly evil grin, but I can take a breather first.
Raphael stroked in perfect tempo. He was one of the most technically exact musicians Hugh had ever played with, after all. Too exact, in fact.
It would do him so much good to let go a bit, to just go with the flow, be wild and imprecise and purely passionate. Then he would not need so much of this.
Tick—tock—tick—tock—tick—tock, went the metronome, and Raphael stroked and stroked. It was a good while before Hugh could tell, from a small furrow between those blond eyebrows, that the unchanging, slow rhythm was beginning to frustrate him. He smiled a bit wider and said nothing, devouring his beautiful quarry with his eyes. He watched, entranced the fluid play of flesh and skin as Raphael’s long pale cock, a nice ruddy purple by now, sank and reemerged into and from his fist, the velvet-like foreskin lapping beautifully over the shinier, silky glans, the testicles bouncing softly to the rhythm as the scrotum was pulled up and released. It was hard to resist the temptation to throw the whole scene to the devil and just take that cock in his mouth and suck it empty.
This is without exception the best use a metronome was ever put to.
Raphael’s body was developing a number of small, charming tics and twitches. He briefly lifted his left knee from the mattress then relaxed again. His right wrist was pulling on the strap from time to time, and his breath was coming in slightly ragged bursts.
Still it took a long time. Too much control, thought Hugh, smiling. Tsk-tsk.
He slowly unfolded his hands and moved to sit between Raphael’s legs. He spit on his middle finger and watched Raphael’s face, half hopeful, half anxious, as he slowly approached his anus. He didn’t hurry. He let Raphael wait for it. He would beg, in time, Hugh knew, but there was no need for that, not yet. He finally pressed his fingertip to the twitching, tight, live rose of flesh and felt it jolt and spasm. He massaged it in circles, with relish, and didn’t even try to penetrate it. Raphael was shaking all over, trying to press down on his finger, but there was just so far he could stretch, tied as he was. His belly muscles went taut. They were contracting in random, jerky convulsions. Hugh had never seen anything so beautiful.
Then Raphael missed a beat. His hand had picked up pace, ignoring all orders. Raphael whimpered, trying to compensate to get back in the right tempo. The double change of pace made him squirm all over. He swallowed twice and missed the beat again. This time Hugh slapped the inside of his thigh, very hard. Raphael could take a long regular series of well-spaced blows with relative ease, but a single hard slap coming down out of the blue like that drew a ragged cry from him.
“You do know what tempo means, I asked?” Hugh said, in a plain chatty voice. He had never had any taste whatsoever for histrionics. He was not, he had never been, a theatrical Dom. He wasn’t in it for setting up a show. He just got the job done.
“Yes. Yes!” said Raphael, a bit frantic. He managed to stick to the rhythm for a minute longer, until Hugh gently stuck his finger just within the ring of his anus. All of Raphael’s body twisted, and he lost all track of the cold, mechanical rhythm of the metronome.
And that is exactly what you need, my love . Too much playing by the rules, too much fucking control. You need to find your own tempo, and just let go.
Five or six fast hard strokes followed. Hugh slapped him twice, on his thigh, and, when he turned suddenly, on his butt. And then Raphael came, on the third slap, as he flopped flat on his back again, crying out in pleasure or pain, or both. It was hard to tell. Semen spurted out in beautiful, long, arched white streamers, splattering over Raphael’s belly, chest, and even his face.
It is difficult to aim while being spanked hard.
Hugh watched him coming, avidly.
He was so naked. So vulnerable, so unguarded. Hugh, who felt, every day, that he might shatter like glass, on Raphael’s unearthly, impossibly graceful, self-possessed beauty, lived for these moments, to watch him released of all self-consciousness and all bonds. Strange, how it took a bunch of leather straps to get him to do that.
“Ah, oh, shit. That hurt,” Raphael whispered after a minute. “Not complaining, mind,” he added, with a small edgy laugh, wiping some drops of sperm from his lips and eyebrow.
“Good,” said Hugh, quite composed, despite the erection straining in his pants. Watching Raphael twitching and jolting while covered in glistening semen was not a sight to leave him unmoved. He reached out for the metronome, stopped it and lowered the weight a tad, then started it again.
This was a faster, business-like tempo.
“There you go, hot lips,” he said to Raphael, who was still breathing hard from his orgasm.
Hugh gave him a small devilish smile. Raphael was perfectly capable of coming two or three times in one night, but, like most men, he needed a while to recuperate in between. Well, tonight, he wasn’t getting it.
“You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?”
You can also find an exclusive excerpt on my website, here.
Into the Mystic, Volume Three is a short story anthology featuring nine paranormal short stories that center on a lesbian/bisexual romance. I’m super excited about it, since I feel there is a lack of LGBT fantasy romance especially ones that focus on the ladies. Since I know a few of these authors, they let me interview them!
It Started Before Noon – All Stories must begin somewhere.
Ava Kelly is an engineer with a deep passion for stories. Whether reading, watching, or writing them, Ava has always been surrounded by tales of all genres. Their goal is to bring more stories to life, especially those of friendship, compassion, understanding, and comfort.
L.J. wakes up bound to M. Hollis’ wheeled chair, but she is not in her kitchen anymore. Instead L.J. is surrounded by books, cogs, wires, and bubbling liquids. A picture perfect steampunk laboratory.
L.J.: Damn! Serves me right for trusting a vampire and her delicious cookies.
L.J. scoots and the chairs rolls forward.
L.J.: Hello? Is there a mad scientist around? Maybe a minion?
Crash that sounds like tools and metal, but also pens and paper. Ava Kelly pops around the corner. L.J. wiggles her fingers to wave.
Ava: Oh! You’re awake already. That vampire told me you were a dream factory and would sleep for a hundred years. I hadn’t even gotten around to test you yet!
L.J.: Nope, just a friendly writer going around door-to-door in other author’s imaginations and getting interviews.
Ava: Aw. Serves me right for trusting a vampire and her discounts. Well, I suppose it’s nothing a sedative won’t cure.
L.J.: But the interview? I mean this silliness has gone along quite long enough don’t you agree?
Ava: I suppose…
Ava sits down and sips from a cup of tea.
Ava: You’ll want to know what draws me to F/F romance?
L.J.: Actually, I’d like to be untied before–
Ava: The same thing that draws me to queer stories in general. Diversity and normalizing diversity.
L.J.: That’s beautiful. Can I quote you on that. I just need to not be tied up so I can–
Ava: Names are powerful things. I’ve been an outsider throughout my formative years, raised in an allo cishet environment in which queer media was almost non-existent.
Ava paces through the laboratory, pausing as they encounter experiments that need fine tuning.Tightening loose screws, pruning idea trees, that sort of thing.
Ava: So you can imagine the revelations I had later on, when—through the stories and movies and books of others—I could name the peculiarities of my own person. When I knew that I wasn’t alone. I’d like to bring that feeling to others. I’d like to help them understand who they are, be able to name their demons and thus turn them into trusted companions. Because, hey, we’re all different and that’s what makes us human. That’s a good thing.
L.J.: So is untying your guests.
Ava turning sharply with a needle full of dream-dust.
L.J.: What inspired “It Started Before Noon”?
Ava leans against a table stacked high with books and sets down the needle. One of the books stretches, yawns, and patters over to L.J.
Ava: That is a very good question, since “It Started Before Noon” is a story about inspiration.
Ava rubs their chin.
Ava: Honestly, I can’t remember what it was that started it all. One moment I was hopping through the mythology multi-verses—Wikipedia is both a burden and a joy, isn’t it?—the next there were storypuffs and muses and scientists looking for romance in a world dry of it.
L.J. nods helpfully. But as soon as Ava returns to their survey of the room, L.J. rubs her bound wrists against the hard-ridges of the book’s spine. The book arches up happy with the attention.
Ava: I must admit, I have a soft spot for steampunk aesthetics, the visual part of it most of all. The universe of “It Started Before Noon” has that aesthetic, but it has magic. A subtle kind of supernatural energy, persistent, generously infused in everyday life. A resource like everything else.
L.J. stops sawing through the straps when Ava turns to look at her. The hard-cover book annoyed bats at L.J.’s hands with its sharp pages.
L.J.: That’s really cool. You don’t often see sci fi and fantasy blending like that.
Ava nods and collects the stray books and returns it to its tower while it hisses.
Ava: The people living in this world are on a spectrum of magic… flux, if you will. Some are immersed in it to their core, it’s part of who they are, what they are. Others are at the other extreme, oblivious to its tendrils wrapping around reality. Most, however, reside in between, be they creators of magic or simply users. Talida, a muse, is a part of it. Ingrid, a scientist, cannot see it.
L.J.: Oh that’s a relationship fraught with conflict right from the start.
Ava: Indeed. Their personalities aren’t all that similar either. Talida is easily annoyed, but she also has patience; unless startled, in which case she acts rashly and without much consideration. Ingrid is exuberant, relentless, a little stubborn. Yet, when it comes to tending to her own happiness, she might give up too easily. They fit around each other, not perfectly, but enough to make them gravitate toward each other.
L.J. snaps the rest of the strap while Ava plays with a character mixer demonstrating the auras mingling.
L.J.: It sounds like you have a really in-depth world for a novella. Was that a challenge for you?
Ava: When writing fantasy, the most difficult part is world-building without making it obvious. It’s easy to drop a chunk of text explaining how that particular setting works, its rules, its way of life; but considerably harder to interweave it within the story.
Ava reaches into a jaw of descriptors and begins to pepper them around the lab. A ‘thatched’ there, an ‘eye of newt’ here, ‘creaky floor boards’ all around, and ‘smoke swirling upward. The ‘gingerbread fragrance’ thickens.
Ava: Let it drop here and there, make its way into the reader’s mind quietly and unobtrusively until they’re there. Until they’re living inside that space with no memory of having to jump through. As a writer you have to know how to open the doors to your own imagination without yanking your reader through. Must have patience, must lure them with crumbs under the canopy, one after another on the meandering forest path until bam!
L.J.: Holy cow, we’re in a witch’s cottage.
L.J. is now imprisoned in a cage made of hard-rock candy.
Ava: Would you like some gingerbread to munch on?
L.J.: No, I’ve leaved my lesson about snacking in other authors’ imaginations. What about the romance part of the story? Was that difficult?
Ava continues drinking their tea, though they lean against a kitchen counter full of dangling herbs, jars of organs, and vials of electricity.
Ava: Romance is… weird, in a good way. There’s a thing I noticed over the past decade(-ish). Our world demands fiction to be more and more realistic. There’s so much technological progress that science fiction is becoming true. I essentially design artificially intelligent systems in my research.
L.J.: Wait, like…for real?
Waves hands and dispels the witch cottage and re-checks their e-mail.
L.J.: Ava… is an engineer… That reality is a hundred times cooler than anything I could making up.
Ava: Yeah, let me tell you: it’s mind-blowing. Twenty years ago, having an entire computer in your pocket would’ve been too out-there to imagine it as an integral part of our lives. Now that computer can be the size of a watch and you can still write emails on it. And remember those Star Trek comm devices? The only difference is that we’re wearing them around our wrists instead of on our chests.
L.J.: I’d give all my money to the person who designs a case for one that clips onto my shirt and stays in place.
Ava: One will probably pop up soon enough. So, now we have this world in which the impossible is suddenly not only plausible but also probable, and we start craving reality to bleed through. Romance as a genre is a mirror that distorts reality toward happiness, but the world is sadly too bleak. On the one hand we want to see the possibility of contentment, and yet, on the other, we thrive when it moulds around life as we know it.
L.J.: So the challenge of writing romance…
Ava: Is making it feel possible. Realistic enough to touch. In the end it’s all about fulfilling the purpose of romance: to give hope. And that’s pretty damn hard to do if your heart, as a writer, is not in it.
L.J.: Alright, last thoughts. What is your advice to new writers, Ava Kelly?
Ava: I’ve seen a lot of advice regarding writing in general, but a lot less when it comes to the struggles of getting your work out there. So I’m going to talk about the publishing part. If you don’t want to self-publish, you have to submit your work for consideration. To a magazine, a publisher, an agent, etc. and convincing them to buy your stories can seem sisyphean.
One of the realities of today’s world is that there’s just so much of everything in it. So many people, so much media, a lot fewer avenues of publication. It’s hard to shine from a pool of millions doing the same thing (and this happens not only in art-related fields, but also in research and academia). I’ve been publishing things in both fiction and non-fiction since the late ’90s and oh, boy! I have gotten at least ten times more rejections than acceptances, overall. Haven’t really counted, but that’s in the upper hundreds there.
It’s spirit-crushing. Heartbreaking sometimes. Discouraging to the point of hopelessness.
My advice? Keep submitting.
The hardest thing about this is to not give up, so how do we endure? Simply don’t stop—don’t set that quill down, that’s your sword! Polish the story, if you must. Rewrite it, reimagine, but never stop submitting. Be patient, let the no’s slide off and get back to it. Persevere.
L.J.: This has been a lot of fun for me and now I’m super inspired.
L.J. walks away before any of these nutballs from Into the Mystic catch her again.
L.J.: Can’t believe I got an interview with the inventor of our future Robot masters.
Into the Mystic, Volume Three is a short story anthology featuring nine paranormal short stories that center on a lesbian/bisexual romance. I’m super excited about it, since I feel there is a lack of LGBT fantasy romance especially ones that focus on the ladies. Since I know a few of these authors, they let me interview them!
The Hunt – A first bite is never easy for a teenage vampire.
M. Hollis could never decide what to do with her life. From the time she was a child, she has changed her ideas for a career hundred of times. After writing in hidden notebooks during classes and daydreaming during every spare moment of her day, she decided to fully dedicate herself to her stories. When she isn’t scrolling through her social media accounts or reading lots of femslash fanfiction, you’ll find her crying about female characters and baking cookies.
Ziggy Schultz closes the mausoleum gate as soon as L.J. passes through. Which is good because L.J. immediately tries to escape.
L.J.: There’s a vampire out here! Let me out!
The vampire draws nearer licking bubble-gum pink lips, then lifts a tray of oatmeal raisin cookies.
M. Hollis: Cookie?
L.J.: Um… obviously. Yeah.
The inside of the mausoleum is in fact a very pretty kitchen. Lots of bright colors and a sign over the table that says “forever thirsty” and has a suspiciously red margarita.
M: So happy you could join me in my happy home. When I heard Ninestar Press was looking for F/F paranormal stories and I decided to write something for them. Vampire stories always fascinated me for some reason.
M. Hollis giggles and flashes her pearly fangs. L.J. eats the cookies.
M.: So it was easy to come up with The Hunt. I wanted to write a story that isn’t dark or creepy for once but more about vampire families and how vampires do the transition from newborns to fully formed vampires. That’s how I came up with the first bite being kind of a ritual for some vampires (not all of them feel the itch to bite humans though).
L.J.: Cool take on vampires. Life cycle. These cookies are amazeballs! So you’re main character is a teenage vampire?
M: “teenage” vampire. She was changed a few days before she turned 19. You can see her on my pinterest. She was scared and alone at the time and she found a family with Carla and Mona (who she calls Mom and Mommy). Carla is a writer who specializes in writing books that tell vampires where the safe and dangerous places are to live and visit while her wife Mona is a translator and they kinda work together sometimes. In this world, vampires have secured themselves into a new dimension where they have their neighborhoods and houses in a safe place, but they come out sometimes for food, pleasure or work.
L.J.: Nice. So you’ve got two F/F couples?
M: Representation is so important. I started reading F/F romance when I was looking for more diverse stories years ago and the more I read the more I figured my sexuality out and my love for other women. So now I like to dedicate myself to reading and writing F/F as much as I can.
L.J.: That’s beautiful. Nearly as beautiful as these cookies… so…what challememes…
L.J. swallows the cookie.
L.J.: What challenges did you face in writing fantasy/romance?
M.: World-building l is always the hardest part for me. I like to write more about the characters themselves than little details so I tend to forget things that other people care about. I guess is something I slowly work with and my beta readers are always helping me out to become a better author. For romance, the challenge is to find a way to tell a love story that will make everyone happy, which is completely impossible. Every person likes different things and you end up making some people happy and some people disappointed. With time, you learn that you can just write a story and see what happens when it reaches other hands.
L.J. suddenly feeling very sleepy, yawns.
L.J.: Yeah, can’t please… everybody all the… Did I ask about your advice to newbies, yet?
M.: Nope. Here, have a seat in this convenient and not at all suspiciously wheeled arm chair. You look exhausted.
L.J.: Well, you know, between the ghosts and demons and werewolves and… oh more cookies. It’s been a weird couple of days. So advice for…
M.: Make friends in the publishing world! Especially, other authors. I don’t know if I could still be here if it wasn’t the many other wonderful authors who encourage me and are always helping me with my stories. And I love helping them back. Working in publishing is hard…
M. Hollis plumps the pillow on the chair.
M.: If you don’t have a good support system, you’ll end up too exhausted to keep going.