Tag Archives: steampunk

Coal Belly Draft Zero

So, Coal Belly is Done… Sorta

Last weekend, after a year and eight months, I finally hit print on the final chapter of my latest novel, Coal Belly. The first of what I hope to be a trilogy. Right now, it weighs in at 190k words, and I expect it to grow.

Long time readers know this isn’t the first time I’ve written Coal Belly. The original manuscript emerged in 2010/11—a few years after I moved to Seattle and around the time I started working at Google. In fact, this blog began right after I finished the manuscript as an attempt to document my journey. That first version was around 130k words, and in the end, nothing came of it. It languished on shelves and hard drives for years. Always nagging at me as I worked on and published other projects. I knew there a was a better story there, I just hadn’t found it yet. It wasn’t until early 2016 that I felt I was ready to give it another go.

Coal Belly, Draft Zero, along side pre-manuscript ritual islay scotch and a cigar.
Behold! Coal Belly, Draft Zero sitting alongside my post-manuscript ritual: Islay scotch (in this case Laphroaig 10 yr., often Lagavulin 16 yr.) and a Cuban cigar.

It’s the longest I’ve ever worked on a book. Some elements have remained the same, steamboats still feature prominently in a world covered with rivers, and its weird-west aesthetic persists. But the themes between books are very different. Characters have become something greater, plotlines are better defined and much more complex, and the stakes are personal. Looking back it’s obvious now, and I’m glad I put it aside. That first version was akin to raw ore, and this new manuscript is the refined mineral. It’s a better book in every way.

“That first version was akin to raw ore, and this new manuscript is the refined mineral.”

As always, I took some time over the weekend and commemorated the occasion. I spent most of this last week reflecting on the work, and I’m excited. Coal Belly draft zero is done. The editing lies before me. I go on vacation next week, but soon it’ll be time to delve back into the work while my steam is up.

More on Coal Belly later.


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How Airships Worked

How Passenger Airships Worked

For years I didn’t understand the steampunk community’s obsession with airships. I understood that they were transportation ephemera of a sort and that they harkened back to a bygone era, but I always thought they were too small. This was due in large part to my misunderstanding of their construction.

I was further confused when I realized I didn’t understand how mooring masts worked. The giant spire atop the Empire State Building was initially designed to be a mooring mast, but I could never understand how passengers would get down from the gondola. Ropes? Ladders? Either way, it sounded like it would be dangerous.

It wasn’t until I read Larry Correia’s novel Hard Magic in January that I decided to look further into dirigibles. His book utilizes them a great deal, but I was having a difficult time picturing the spaces described, so I began to research. It turns out my assumptions were very wrong. Airships had decks! Passenger cabins! Lounges! Promenades! As I started asking my friends, I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my ignorance. I blame The Rocketeer.

So where were these accommodations? This surprised me as well. As the illustration below describes, they were most often inside the ridge frame of the airship itself.

A 1928 drawing by S.W. Clatworthy showing the accommodation aboard the R100
A 1928 drawing by S.W. Clatworthy showing the accommodation aboard the R100

For years, I operated under the assumption that passengers were as crammed into the tight space of a gondola (similar to military dirigibles.) But the tiny gondolas that dangled below looked uncomfortable for a long flight across the Atlantic. It turns out they were the exact opposite of cramped. When I realized they had more in common with starships, ocean liners, and riverboats, my perspective changed. They became something much more, and I immediately understood the obsession.

My research led me to The Airship Heritage Trust, which had a collection of images of the British R100, one of the premiere passenger airships of its day and similar in design to the famous Hindenburg. There you can find photos, ship plans, flight logs, and much more. If you’re looking for details, I highly recommend browsing that site.

Plans of the R100
Plans of the R100

I was fascinated by the layout, and the passion began to make sense. Below is a collection of images and some deck plans I have found relating to the interior and passenger spaces of airships. These come from the British R100 and R101 and the Nazi LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, LZ 129 Hindenburg, and LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II. I also included a photo at the end showing passengers boarding the R101 so you can see how mooring masts worked. Makes a lot more sense than what I had in my head. In some cases, I did some minor color correction and cropping to give the gallery some unity.


[!] Note: While one of the most successful dirigibles, the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin had a different layout than the others. It crammed passengers and crew into a large forward gondola that extended partly into the ship’s frame. You can see its design and deck plan here. The larger LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II moved passengers into the frame.


While airships won’t be appearing in my writing anytime soon, I now understand the attraction. They’re an ocean liner in the sky, a home to their crew, and a hotel to their passengers. They’re not at all cramped. I can see why they’d be the transportation choice for pulpy adventures. Just make sure you have your ticket.

The Weather Diaries

Friday Link Pack 11-21-2014

Friday, Friday, FRRRIIIDDDAAAY! That means it’s time to share a few links I’ve found over the last few days. Some of these I mention on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Let me know! All right, let’s get to it.

Tanzania:

Community Starts With You
My friend Brandie Heinel is moving to Tanzania to build an orphanage, foster home, and community center. She needs your help. Instead of buying that coffee or a beer today, please take time and donate.

Writing:

Burying The Coin By Setsu Uzume
Do yourself a favor and listen to the latest short story from my friend Setsu Uzume over on PodCastle. If you’re looking for a steampunk romp with a little more punk, then you won’t be disappointed. Not only is the writing great, Amanda Fitzwater does an excellent job with the reading.

‘Am I Being Catfished?’ An Author Confronts Her Number One Online Critic
Strange tale of an author seeking her biggest Goodreads critic. This was making the rounds for a while, but it’s worth a read if you missed it. Thanks to J. Rushing for suggesting I add it. Oh, and I should add, never, never, never do this.

The Book That Writes Itself
In which Hugh Howey asks the question: when will machines start writing books? Don’t think it could happen? Think again. It’s an interesting exploration on the advancement of artificial intelligence and humanities future.

Grimm Brothers’ Fairytales Have Blood & Horror Restored In New Translation
You’re probably aware that the old fairy tales were much different than the ones we know today. In the mid 19th century they were cleaned up for children and deviated significantly from the original stories. Well, good news! In the latest edition, those tales have been restored to their terrifying glory, and now I know what’s going on my Christmas list.

Art:

Thierry Cohen’s Darkened Cities
In this series photographer Thierry Cohen explore landscapes we rarely see. Modern cities usually alive with artificial light, lit only by the stars.

Surreal Pencil Drawings Of Lips By Christo Dagorov
Switzerland-based illustrator creates fascinating imagery and landscapes within the texture of human lips.

The Weather Diaries
A book and short film made to celebrate Norwegian Fashion Week that goes above and beyond. Surreal and haunting imagery that is stunningly beautiful. Thanks to my own favorite painter, Kari-Lise (who else), for sharing this.

Random:

Norway’s Sleek New Passports Contain A Surprise Design Feature
As I said on twitter, I think Norway is going to win “Best Looking Passport.” Is that a thing? We should make it a thing.

Cory Doctorow: Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free
I debated putting this in writing, and opted here, because information is much broader than just the written word. Anyway, Doctorow makes a case that digital locks are worthless and access is better in the long run (and people will pay for it.)

Ancient Egyptian Handbook Of Spells Deciphered
Here’s your fascinating archaeology news of the week, a 1300 year old manuscript deciphered. They claim it contains spells to cure possession by spirits and various ailments, or to bring success in love and business but let’s hope no one conjures up a First, eh?

Lovecraft Story of the Week:

The Book
“As I hurried home through those narrow, winding, mist-choked waterfront streets I had a frightful impression of being stealthily followed by softly padding feet.”

Gif of the Week:

Happy Thanksgiving!