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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

What I'm Reading

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


Well, that lat post was more than a drop of vintage whine. Thanks for indulging me.

One of my goals is to blog more about the things I'm reading. And to that end, this seemed like a good time.

I'm plotting out an alternate history story. It started as pure Steampunk, but as I got into all of the details I decided that label might not fit. (Oh, what's a label, anyway? Don't get me started down that path.) At this point "alternate history" allows me to be more open to possibilities. While I have a basic story in mind, I'm trying to work out the fiddly bits. Part of those fiddly bits are the history background. In other words, I need to be able to convince the reader I know what the heck I'm writing about.

I've always had a fondness for the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. I'd say it springs from my love of all things Sherlock Holmes, but it's deeper than that. I always loved old things, and I had the opportunity to be around - and learn about - antiques when I was younger. I hated History classes, though, because of the boring repetition of days and dates. As I grew and learned to discover history through literature and technology, that all changed.

A friend suggested I write a Steampunk novel. I love the genre, but had trouble wrapping my head around just what I wanted to do. I decided that perhaps I needed more history. Most Steampunk literature falls under the broader heading of "alternate history," but often takes technology as the turning point, rather than the old standby political turning points. What if Edison had moved on to other inventions right after he'd perfected his light bulb instead of spending so much time on that technology? What might have been? You get the idea.

With that in mind, I decided I wanted to learn more about the movers and shakers of that era. I started with When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age, by Justin Kaplan. It's a lively portrait of the family that ruled the social scene in New York for so many years. A few events in that book helped me fix a few points in my story and narrow down the window for the time period.

Next, I dived into The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern America, by Maury Klein. I've been working on this one for almost two weeks. It's dense with technical details (fortunately, I love those things), but when you strip those out you're left with a compelling portrait of the men (and maybe one or two women who worked in labs) who built the technologies and associated financial empires. I keep seeing the Ken Burns documentary in my head. It's helped me narrow down the time frame even more, and also provided what may be an interesting twist to the tale. (No, I'm not telling.)

A book that's helping me fix some of the scenery is The Mansions of Long Island's Gold Coast, by Monica Randall. It's long out of print (I found it at a local library "friends" sale) but it's provided some help in settings.

I've been taking copious notes and hope to start some serious world building soon. First, I have to investigate the idea for the twist and see if that will take me where I'd like to go with the story. It's easy to just say that because it's alternate history I can do anything I want, but I don't think it's a good thing to deviate too far from certain points lest I stretch credibility.

Time to go read!

Tags: What I'm Reading Writing

Filed under: What I'm Reading   Writing         
1/8/2010 10:19:00 PM
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