Buzzymag Interview: The Backstory of JW&TCTM

For those interested in how Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine came to be, I’ve hoisted from the archives the following article from BuzzyMag where I was interviewed by Jean Marie Ward at Dragon Con 2014:

JMW: What kind of challenges are you bringing to that Steampunk story?

Dr. Anthony Francis: I was inspired to write this story by coming to Dragoncon and seeing all these people with all these gears and stuff and all the stuff on their costumes. I’m like, how would that possibly work? What if that possibly worked? Wait. Could I design a reason why people would be wearing goggles because they have ray guns that have a lot of ultraviolet? Could I design a reason why there’d be all these tubes where they maybe have gas powered things like with compressed air. So I started building this up and I started writing a small amount of story on this. I’m like, but how did they get that in the early 1900’s, slightly after what in our world would be the death of Queen Victoria? Technically Edwardian rather than Victorian, but you’ll have to read the book to see more of that. But it started to bother me. Like, how did they get in this early 1900’s time frame with all this technology that we don’t have and then it occurred to me. What if some of the scientists didn’t die, like [Riemann], and if we’d had something like modern antibiotics so he didn’t die [of, I think,] tuberculosis or pneumonia, I can’t remember which at this time. And then what if other people didn’t die? What if Mary Shelley didn’t die? I was researching feminism at the time and I had found out that there was a feminist movement in the early 1800’s that died out when Mary Wollstonecraft gave birth to Mary Shelley and died subsequent to the childbirth and then when her husband published her biography, it had the backfire effect of trashing her reputation so women’s rights were set back about a hundred years.

To learn more, go check out the interview at BuzzyMag, fellow adventurers! Or to read the book that was the ultimate product of this thought process, get Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine wherever fine books are sold:

-the Centaur

Pictured: a location from Dragon Con. Or, perhaps, one from JW&TCTM … can you spot it?

Guest Post at Magical Words

Want to know more about the process of writing a novel? Check out my guest post at Magical Words!

Putting It All In

One of the most important pieces of writing advice I’ve received is “put it all in.” If you’ve got a great idea, don’t save it for a great story: put it in the story you’re working on now. I can’t tell you how many times in the past I had a great idea that I felt I “wasn’t ready to tell,” but I can tell you that those stories almost never get told.

When I started writing a steampunk novel, I questioned what to put in it. I knew my protagonist was a young female soldier from the Victorian era, but what else should go in the story? Some things seemed obvious …

To find out more the rest, take a look at the post, or to find out more about Jeremiah, check out The Clockwork Time Machine wherever fine books are sold:

-the Centaur

The Willstone Family Mint Julep

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One of the fun things that Bell Bridge Books does for authors is to find ways to connect them to readers. While brainstorming about Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine, one thing they suggested was to find something fun in the books – like an activity, a recipe – or a drink. Well, as it turns out, there’s a cocktail in JW&TCTM: the mint julep.

It was worth the wait. The mint julep was precisely as she remembered her grandmother’s: sweet sugar, sharp bourbon, the tang of mint fresh-picked from the garden, all served icy-cold in a tall Collins glass. It was like a sudden flash from another universe, another time, and Jeremiah felt a pang of homesickness—and forgotten loneliness; her grandmother was long gone, and Jeremiah realized she was more than a decade into the project of redeeming her mother’s good name. After a long sip of mint-muddled bourbon, Jeremiah marshaled herself and spoke.

According to Garden and Gun’s The Southerner’s Handbook, “the mint julep may be the most iconic cocktail in America” after the martini. Originating in the early eighteen hundreds, it was perceived as a drink of the elites – because you needed a heck of lot of money to offer someone a drink, much less one served with ice, in a pewter cup, prepared by a servant, so it arrived frosted, all prior to refrigeration! But in modern times the mint julep is a drink for the masses, perhaps best known for its association with the Kentucky Derby, which in turn shot from regional to international prominence because of Hunter S. Thompson’s groundbreaking article of gonzo journalism, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.

But all that history takes us away from the damn drink, and while Jeremiah Willstone’s family originated in England with Mary Wollstonecraft, they very definitely became Southerners when they emigrated to America (where the real-life Mary Wollstonecraft had hoped to travel one day, if she’d lived longer). It took a little work to interpolate what the Willstone family’s mint julep might be like, but then I realized, since Victoriana is a century up on us, their drinks might be a mix of old and new. And so:

The Willstone Family Mint Julep

8 mint leaves
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
2.5 ounces Kentucky bourbon
Selzer water
Crushed ice
1 Julep Cup (traditional) or Collins Glass (modern)
1 mint sprig
Put the mint leaves in the bottom of the glass and top with the sugar. Muddle them together until the mint leaves begin to break down. Add a splash of seltzer to dissolve the sugar. Fill the glass 3/4 full with crushed ice and pour in the bourbon; top off with selzer. Stir, then garnish with the mint sprig and serve!

This recipe is a combination of ones from Garden and Gun’s The Southerner’s Handbook, updated slightly through comparison with one by Alton Brown to make it stronger and sweeter and to incorporate the more modern selzer water that the Victorianans would not be afraid to use. Contrariwise, the Garden and Gun one uses hot water instead of seltzer water, a good old Southern trick to make sure that the sugar completely dissolves – so Grandma Mark Willstone just might have poured a “little drop” of hot water on her mint and sugar before muddling it … and pouring in that crushed ice.

Enjoy.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a mint julep, from Wikimedia Commons by CocktailmarlerOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.

A Day Without Women Would be the End of the World

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Today, March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day that began commemorating the anniversary of a women workers strike – and so perhaps it’s also being celebrated as A Day Without a Woman, another strike designed to call attention to how important women are to our society. But, science fiction writer that I am, I couldn’t help but think of literal day without women. One could think of it as an inversion of the story of Y the Last Man – except of course it would mean the end of the human world. Whether you believe the story of Genesis or the Mitochondrial Eve hypothesis, our species originated from a single mother – but new species arise when old ones go through population bottlenecks, so the children of X the Last Woman might not be a humanity that we recognize.

But, proponent of woman’s rights that I am, I can’t also help but think that science fiction scenario is precisely the wrong way to think about women. It reduces them to the role that they serve for our species. It’s no more appropriate to reduce a woman to her womb than it is to reduce a man to his sperm – and the reduction is considerably more damaging to women, who’ve suffered millennia of discrimination at the hands of societies that often treat them like second class citizens, if not property – at least since biblical and Roman times, and possibly for all of human history.

The History of International Women’s Day

Well, in the early 1900s, women who were tired of that treatment banded together into unions like the International Ladies’ Garment Worker’s Union, organizing a series of strikes demanding better conditions and equal pay, starting with one on March 8, 1908. That strike might have been overshadowed in the history books by the much larger Uprising of the 20,000 in 1909 – but the Socialist Party of America was struck enough by it to commemorate it with a Woman’s Day in 1909, which blossomed into an international celebration by 1911. In 1914, International Women’s Day was held again on March 8, and it’s been held there ever since.

Any doubters of the power of women to change the world should remember this: International Women’s Day kicked off the Russian Revolution. Leon Trotsky once said “we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution” – but it did, when women went on strike and took to the streets of Saint Petersburg, demanding “Bread and Peace” – an end to World War I, to food shortages, and the rule of the Russian czars – and kicking off the February Revolution. In the end, Nicholas II abdicated – and the newly instituted Provisional Government granted women the right to vote on July 20, 1917.

At first, International Women’s Day was celebrated for decades primarily in socialist countries, but as it progressed, its focus changed more and more to focus on women in general – to the point that to hide its origins, some people even made up stories that International Women’s Day had an older history going back to 1847. But it’s wrong to distort history: we should no more strip International Women’s Day of its Soviet roots than we should try to hide that Sputnik launched from Tyuratam.

Like orbit, gender equality respects no boundaries and is held back by no creed, and the United Nations began celebrating IWD as part of International Women’s Year in 1975 and giving it themes in 1996. Depressingly, many themes seem to recur, such as struggles against violence against women and struggles for gender equality – just as women marched for equality in 1908. Perhaps that’s why we needed A Day Without a Woman – to remind us of what we’d be missing in a world without them.

Whether you took part in A Day Without a Woman or are just now finding out about it, it’s a good time to think back not just on the women in your life, but to think about them not just in their roles as women – as wives or mothers or daughters or sisters – but as people who are individuals, full members of our society with equal standing with all others. That’s not to say that there’s not a lot to celebrate about women in their roles as women (or men in their roles as men, or others in their role as others) – but we should never reduce or restrict any individual to their role based on their gender.

Reflections in Victoriana

Jeremiah Willstone would be shocked to hear that in 1908 women in our universe were leading some of their first major marches for women’s rights – and not just because, in her universe, 1908 was the year Jeremiah, as a female Senior Expeditionary Commander, led a mammoth military strike force in pursuit of her uncle and his stolen airship at the beginning of The Clockwork Time Machine.

She’d be surprised because in her universe, her great-great grandmother Mary Wollstonecraft wrote a book called The Equality of Man, a magnum opus which kicked off a women’s Liberation movement that spread like wildfire all over the world – and, as I am fond of saying, “with twice as many brains working on problems, Jeremiah’s world is more advanced in 1908 than ours is today.”

In our world, of course, Mary Wollstonecraft did not write The Equality of Man; she died a decade earlier, from complications in giving birth to Mary Shelley, future author of Frankenstein. We’ll talk about how Mary Wollstonecraft’s death was a great lost opportunity – and how she inspired the world of Victoriana – in a future post!

-the Centaur

Pictured: Princess Hyacinth by Alphonse Mucha, a picture I have always admired for the strength and unconventional depicted in the figure, a daughter of a blacksmith in a ballet with ties to Czech lore. Image credit thanks to the users of Pinterest.

Adventures in Women’s History

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Jeremiah’s world is one in which women’s liberation happened a century early, so, with twice as many brains working on hard problems, they’re more advanced in 1908 than we are today – but that doesn’t mean we’re not trying! In March, the people of our universe celebrate Women’s History Month as a way to highlight the important parts of our history that might otherwise be forgotten, and so this month on the Adventures of Jeremiah Willstone I’m going to highlight various figures in women’s history and how they inspired various characters in the Jeremiah Willstone series.

We’ll be talking about women’s liberation pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft and how she inspired Jeremiah Willstone; women scientists Emmy Noether and Marie Curie and how they inspired Doctor Jackson Truthsayer; computer scientists Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper and how they inspired Georgiana Westenhoq, and women soldiers Kristen Griest and Chantelle Taylor and how they inspired characters like Jeremiah and Natasha Faulkner-Jain.

I’ll also talk a bit about Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day, and the whole notion of “history months” and how Bayes Rule helps us understand why singling out one group for recognition, which to some people seems prejudiced and unfair, really can be a fair thing if that group has been unfairly treated!

Stay tuned!

-the Centaur

Making a Point…

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I told someone: “Jeremiah comes from a world where women’s liberation happened a century early, so, with twice as many brains working on problems, they’re more advanced in 1908 than we are today.” His response: “Oh, you’re making a point, aren’t you?”

Yes. Yes I am…

-the Centaur

Guest Post at Beauty’s Library!

Want to know more about the philosophy behind Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine? Check out my guest post at Beauty’s Library:

Jeremiah Willstone is a special novel for me, because the smallest of inspirations blossomed into a project that reflects my deepest values. I fell in love with steampunk at Dragon Con 2009, where I saw many amazing steampunk costumes, in particular a young woman with a steam-powered gatling gun. My training as a science fiction writer makes me pick at the loose threads of imagined worlds, so I started to wonder not just what technology could power that gun, but what social changes could have enabled a young woman to become a Victorian soldier.

I’ve been interested in women’s rights since I was a child…

To read the rest, take a look, or to find out more about Jeremiah, check out The Clockwork Time Machine wherever fine books are sold:

-the Centaur

Author Spotlight at Bell Bridge Books

Over at Bell Bridge Books, I talk about how I came to love steampunk and how Jeremiah Willstone came to be!

Alright, I’ll admit it: I didn’t start out liking steampunk. When The Difference Engine came out, I just didn’t get it. I mean, Charles Babbage’s Difference Engines actually working, much less changing Victorian society? I didn’t buy it. Looking back, I think I just didn’t like alternate history, as I found other, similar novels off-putting.

But as I grew, I watched the steampunk movement grow too, hand in hand with the burgeoning maker community. At the same time I started attending the Maker Faire and admiring all the amazing contraptions our modern independent inventors were coming up with, I started noticing more and more steampunk costumes expressing the same kind of gutsy do-it-yourself, throw-it-all-together flair.

It all came together for me at Dragon Con 2009 …

To read more, check it out at the Bell Bridge Books blog!

-the Centaur

JW&TCTM is HERE!

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At long last, Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine is OUT in the world! You can get it wherever fine books are sold:

The Clockwork Time Machine tells the story of Jeremiah Willstone, a female adventurer from an alternate world called Victoriana, where, because women’s liberation happened a century early and twice as many brains ended up working on hard problems, science has advanced more in 1908 than it has in our world today – but inadvertently, these scientific advances attracted the attention of aliens called Foreigners, who have come calling to make this world their own!

When Jeremiah’s treacherous uncle steals a dangerous alien weapon and secrets it away on an airship to a possibly hostile shore, Jeremiah leads a strike team to retrieve it – and finds herself chasing him across the seas of time itself, with her uncle just possibly aiming to upend the entire world order she holds dear! With time running out, Jeremiah must sacrifice everything she is to save everyone she loves.

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Enjoy!

-the Centaur

JW&TCTM Release: February 23rd, 2017

Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine will be out next week – February 23rd, 2017! Order it on Amazon, review it on Goodreads, or ask for it wherever fine books are sold!

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From an Epic Award winning author comes a sprawling tale of brass buttons, ray guns, and two-fisted adventure!

In an alternate empire filled with mechanical men, women scientists, and fantastic contraptions powered by steam, a high ranking officer in the Victoriana Defense League betrays his country when he steals an airship and awakens an alien weapon that will soon hatch into a walking factory of death.

Commander Jeremiah Willstone and her team must race through time in a desperate bid to stop the traitor’s plan to use the alien weapon to overthrow the world’s social order. With time running out, Jeremiah may have to sacrifice everything she is to save everyone she loves.

“Addictive, sassy, sexy, funny, intense, brilliant.” -Bitten By Books, on Frost Moon

Epic Award winner Anthony Francis writes the Dakota Frost, Skindancer series and the Jeremiah Willstone series while working on robots for “the Search Engine Which Starts with a ‘G’.”