Friday, April 30, 2010

Historical Automata and Magic Under Glass

One of the aspects readers of Magic Under Glass seem to often be enthralled by is the clockwork man, or automaton, Erris, who comes to life. There are other books with clockwork people coming to life, more of them adult than YA/children's, although I imagine we'll see more, as the steampunk trend is far from over.

I would not call Magic Under Glass true steampunk, though. It doesn't take place in a world where steam power is widely used, there is none of the action-packed gadgetry that usually characterizes steampunk; no airships, no one sporting goggles. It doesn't have technology outside of the real 19th century as we knew it. The automaton Erris is inspired, largely, on an automaton by Jaquet-Droz called "The Musician", constructed in the 18th century. (Originally, I intended the automaton Erris to be much older, which is why he is dressed in 18th century clothes. I later decided fairies could still be wearing 18th century clothes anyway...fairies wearing dour Victorian suits just doesn't seem to match!)

Automata have been constructed and discussed since ancient times--the ancient Greeks were said to have made moving statues--but they really became popular during the Age of Enlightenment. "The Musician" was a lady seated at an organ, displayed in the court of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. Her chest moves as if she is breathing, and her eyes follow the keys and look up to the audience. Her motions are very similar to Erris's as he plays. Another famous automaton was a duck, which appeared to eat and digest food and produce feces, although of course the feces was really pre-made and stored within the duck. Kind of like an 18th century "Baby Alive" doll.

While France is known for is 18th century automata, there were also automata called "Karakuri" in Japan around the same time, which are also very beautiful. The seed of Magic Under Glass was actually planted by an exhibit I saw of these automata at the Morikami Museum in south Florida. These were small, graceful automaton that evoked (and influenced) Japanese theater traditions like Noh and Kabuki...although, alas, they didn't show any moving at the exhibit.

One famous automaton that inspired Magic Under Glass was "The Turk", which was actually a magnificent hoax. The Turk was a chess-playing automaton that wore a turban and robes, sitting at a cabinet with his chessboard. He played a strong game of Chess against any human opponent, which naturally perplexed (and no doubt, often creeped out) the Austrian court where it was first displayed, and many more people afterward. It was a long time before the full extent of the mystery was revealed. (There was a man inside the automaton, playing the chess game, but if you're curious about the details, I recommend reading the very enjoyable The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine by Tom Standage.)

Magic Under Glass came from the question: what if the chess-playing automaton had not been a hoax? What if he could really think, and how would that be possible? The answer, of course, must be magic.

Sources/More Information: (Japanese automata)
The now defunct automates-anciens site. (Weep! This was such a great site!)
The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine by Tom Standage. Walker, 2002.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Win a Sketch of Your Own Character!

Every blog needs a wee inaugural contest, doesn't it?

Well, this one is simple. I'm going to give away 3 sketches of a character from your own story (you don't have to be published) or, if you prefer or don't write, a character from Magic Under Glass or even any other book!

You must be able to provide an adequate physical description of the character if you win.

I will choose three winners randomly, contact them for their choice of character, and mail them a sketch.

(Please note, I am a total slowpoke about mailing prizes, but they WILL be mailed, I promise.)

+1 entry for following me on Twitter
+1 entry for tweeting the contest or mentioning it on Facebook or blog
+1 entry for following this blog
+2 if you already follow this blog! (all 25 of you... )

You MUST MENTION YOUR ENTRIES in a comment or I won't track them, because I won't know which Twitter followers are due to the contest and which are coincidence, etc. The only exception is retweets back to me. I'll track those on Twitter.

International is fine! Contest closes May 7th!


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Magic Under Glass, Deleted Scene

I don't have much in the way of deleted scenes for Magic Under Glass. But there is one complete scene that was taken out because it didn't really further the plot. It's really just a bit of Nimira's character. This scene would have fit in as the last part of chapter 8, which is a dinner conversation between Nimira and Hollin where she first hears of Smollings' visit.

I slipped out into the summer evening, dearly wishing for the companionable solitude of trees and wind. The sky was a washed-out blue, with the western clouds still brushed golden by the setting sun. I hurried along the edge of the garden, hoping no servant would bid me back inside. When I reached the copse of trees, I kept going. The suggestion of a path cut through a field of grasses. I wondered if humans had made it, and if Hollin and Annalie had once roamed here, or if it was merely a passage for rabbits or some other forest creature.

My shoes squished in shallow puddles of fetid muck. Grasses with spiny, feathery heads dragged at the fabric of my skirt. Little green things stuck to the hem. I knew I should have been dismayed to soil Annalie’s clothes; instead I felt an unreasonable satisfaction that I could do as I liked with them.

A few bats fluttered far above my head, and something trilled in the fields, either insect or frog. The cool wind of night swished through the grass. The sky was darkening fast, but I wasn’t afraid.

I slipped into memories as I walked. I recalled playing in the court gardens with the other children. We all took roles from myths and stories. Most girls chose to be the queens and princesses, but I liked to be the wise mountain dragon who doled out tasks for the boys pretending to be warriors. If they got into trouble, I would sigh and pretend to fly from my mountain—a rock half my height—to bail them out of trouble with my dragon powers.

I wondered if it was possible to forget oneself. If I stayed with Hollin, would I still be the same Nim? I hadn’t practiced dancing in days, and I could easily see this stretching into weeks and years. Here I was, on the doorstep of wealth and privilege. It wasn’t my first desire to be merely a rich man’s wife or mistress, but I had known for a long time that I would never follow my mother. I should have been so happy, and yet, for the first time, I imagined myself as the wife of a farmer, back home in Tiansher, with some delusion of nostalgia.

I would gather at the river to talk to the other women in my native tongue.

I would sit and embroider sashes and slippers for upcoming festivals, with delicious anticipation of their debut.

I would grind spices with mortar and pestle, and stir them in the cooking oil; before long I would bring to the table a dish
of such simplicity, yet such exquisite savory that I would never want for the cold pork and boiled vegetables of Lorinar.

I would have a little daughter to teach the songs and dances.

I would have twelve children like Uncle Sancham’s wife, six of them dead by their first year.

I would wake before everyone to tend to the animals, with the thick smell of dung in my nose, and sleep in my eyes.

I would have leathered hands and face from the sun, and breasts that sagged over my sash from all the children, and I wouldn’t bathe often, because peasants hadn’t the time for such things.

I felt such a selfish wretch. Fate had offered me more choices in seventeen years than most women ever had; how dare I wish for more? I looked at Vestenveld from afar, a stone monolith, and knew my choices were narrowing.

I must grow up. I must make that final choice. But I would not lose Nimira. If only I knew just what Nimira really was.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Last Day of Mrs. Douglas Clarke

First, a brief introduction!

Since I was 12 years old, I've been writing stories set in a fantasy world called Arestin, crossing over to our own world. The gist of Arestin is that it's a fantasy world whose people discovered the world of Earth in our 1880s. I hope to eventually sell novels set on Arestin, never know in this biz, and even if I do, clearly I can't put ALL the stories in novels (unless maybe, I sell them and they're crazy-popular, but if that turned out to be the case, likely no one will care if there is a bit of overlap from some old blog post).

So for now, I'm posting stories here, as a creative outlet and some short story practice. I'm going to try to keep them to about 1000 words apiece. Woo! But I also eventually hope to post other extra bits from MAGIC UNDER GLASS and other upcoming novels.

(I would do this now, since it has more of a likely built-in audience...except I'm still writing them! I don't know what will happen IN the books yet!)

Plus art and other story-related stuff, and business news like when I sell a book, and the occasional interview with other writers.

My personal life posts will remain on my LJ blog:

Now I will hush and let the story begin. This story takes place in the aforementioned 1880s, but I'll be jumping around all over the place, timewise. ;)

Most young women would have shrieked, had a strange man materialized beyond the bird bath, but Mrs. Douglas Clarke had other things on her mind. She was, in fact, kneeling in front of her neglected roses, crying in the most wrenching way she could without making any noise, lest the neighbors hear.

When she first saw the man, she thought—hoped—it might be the ghost of her father, come to console her, but it only took a moment for her to realize this was not the case.

For one thing, the man was wearing what she might assume was a theater costume, possibly Russian, with a long belted coat and embroidery, and his black hair fell in loose chunks around his face. For another, he had pointed ears, like something from a fairy story.

She knew her face was red and streaked with tears, but the urge to produce more had left her. “Are you…a fairy?” she asked.

“Son naran?” he said, speaking softly. She understood the syllables, but the words themselves were unknown to her in English, French, or her bit of Latin.

She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

He took a step closer, and although she still didn’t understand a word he said, he indicated her face, and she knew he asked why she had been crying.

Did it matter if she spoke the shameful truth to a strange, possibly Russian man capable of materializing in her garden? It was clear he didn’t understand a word she said. “My husband…I think he might—he might love someone else. We’ve only been married a year. I asked him about it, and he got so angry, but… Am I too dull, too frumpy, too anxious? Why has he never been happy since we married?” She glanced up, and he was watching her with fixed fascination. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter what happened. I just never thought it would be like this, but what makes it worse is the baby. She’s been sick all week, and I’ve had no sleep, and—”

His eyes, deep brown and undeniably lovely, were sympathetic. She would have thought for all the world that he knew what she said.

“Who are you?” she said, as if the oddity of this stranger had only just struck her.

He gestured at her ears. He seemed to find her ears as strange as she found his. Then, he made a vague wave of confusion at her bustle.

“Isabel,” she said, patting her chest, remembering proper manners with strange peoples, although she would not call herself Mrs. Douglas Clarke. She was anguished at the idea of calling herself that name ever again.

“Firanad,” he said, bowing his head.

She heard a sudden shrill scream from the upstairs window. She pointed frantically. “Oh, that’s—Lizzie— I must go. She’s sick. You—you can come with me.” She took a step toward the house, and wouldn’t go farther until he followed. She felt deeply that she must not let him from her sight, or he would vanish, and leave her with an even more profound loneliness.

He stopped in the house. He looked at the black stove, and the sink, and the lantern on the table. They made it to the stairwell before his attention was caught again—more violently—by the wedding photograph hanging on the wall. Lizzie’s scream had reached a piercing pitch. She left him staring at the photo and quickly scooped up her darling little one.

Her skin was still hot. Isabel tried to shove down her fear. Lizzie might have been a product of this marriage that had gone so wrong, but everything about her was precious and lovely, and she would never have another baby. Not with things as they were.

“Shh, shh, darling.” She hurried Lizzie to the stairs, to assure herself that Firanad was still there.

He was.

Isabel briefly frowned in apology at Lizzie’s squalling.

He held a hand out to Lizzie. When she didn’t stop him, he placed it on her forehead, feeling the fever. He looked at her, and asked if it was a concern. She understood that plain enough from his face as he spoke.

“She won’t seem to get well…”

He took a vial from his coat. Carefully, carefully, he spilled a drop onto his finger and placed it to Lizzie’s open, howling mouth. Her infant features crinkled with brief surprise.

He watched her, waiting.

It only took moments before the blue eyes brightened and the cries slowed. A change as profound as magic came across her precious little one. She looked at Firanad with as much confusion as gratitude. “Are you an angel?” she whispered.

He pressed the bottle in her hand and now he spoke slowly again, looking her square in the eyes. “Dado haviga.” He patted her cheek, and motioned down the stairs.

“No—wait. Don’t go. Please don’t go.” The tears came back, so fierce. He was an utter stranger, but she needed him. Wasn’t he here to save her?

“Do haviga.” He was resolute. It was plain on his face. He walked down the stairs, leaving her there with her pain threatening to spill out so fast, she thought it would kill her. She wished it would kill her. He looked back once, and then he was gone. Not just gone to the backyard. He actually vanished, just as he came, leaving emptiness behind, the emptiness of withered hearts and blackest space.

It was a long time now, before she stopped crying.

Somehow, peace came when it must—before Douglas came home.

If it was difficult to live with him before, it would be impossible now. She felt as profoundly changed as if she had spent a year with Martians or King Arthur’s knights. Lizzie was cool and healthy, and she quickly packed her necessary things. She would go to her mother—for now.

Just for now.

She sensed one of the laws of the universe operating upon her; that is, once you have been touched by real, true magic, the world will no longer be a place merely of factories and dust and obligations, but a place of doors that will open to both beauty and pain.