Steampunk Symposium, 2015. It Begins.

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Today (Sunday April 25th, 2015) concludes my very first Steampunk immersion via The Pandora Society’s Steampunk Symposium in Cincinnati, Ohio. It went by way too fast.

I started seeing Steampunk things about five years ago in the jewelry section of my local Jo-Ann’s. I had no idea what it was or what to do with it, but the mix of industrial and feminine symbols intrigued me. A couple years later, at yet another craft store, there was a magazine with these handmade funkified dolls on the cover, again with that industrial feminine look. That’s where the term finally was written down for me: Steampunk. But that’s all I really ever found, Steampunk as a craft aesthetic.

"Crafting" aesthetic
“Craft” aesthetic. Only.

I went to one of Chicago’s oldest technical high schools. My uncles went there, their male cousin, my grandfather, and even my grandmother’s brother. Lots of men. It became co-ed in 1973, and my male alumni teachers never let us forget that we girls weren’t always allowed there. Throughout the building are these long industrial murals that always fascinated me. I resented them, the “progress” that time period would bring. How different would things have been had steam engines and such not been invented or used? Or, if they had been handled differently. Better.  If they’d been more….’feminized’. Coating my resentment was the juxtaposed sensation of hope and sense of power those people felt they were building. They knew they were changing the world, and- good or bad-  the time period is a turning point in our history.

But again, everything about industry and invention is highly masculine. Then along comes Steampunk, where industrialization is more balanced with women involvement and contribution, where history could have happened differently. Better. There are entire groups of people in love with this alternate history concept. And they dress up for it. There’s even such a thing as a Steampunk World’s Fair! I felt like I’d never been sent an invitation to a party I’d have loved to join. I wasn’t the only plain clothed person in attendance, so at least I’m not the only tag-a-long. As someone in a panel audience said, Steampunk feels like the world’s best kept secret.

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They dress up for it!

I’ve been waiting for this year’s Steampunk World’s Fair (May 16th ish, New Jersey). But of course, I have something equally important (my first book signing- yay!) that same weekend. So I scrambled a couple weeks ago to find something similar, and found the Symposium, close enough that I could just get in the car and go- dragging the monsters along with me.

How did I finally dive into Steampunk? A super short story I wrote as a personal challenge for a Facebook contest would not sit quietly as ordered. ‘Ordered’. Ha! Fellow writers are laughing themselves off their chairs at that one. An up-and-coming-author I’m following on Facebook randomly posted a photo of an airship soon after, and I whined to myself that I wanted an airship. I wished I could write a story that involved such things and something more technical than fantasy…..

They ALL dress up for it!
They ALL dress up for it!

And there it was. A self-inflicted dare I couldn’t ignore. Why can’t I have an airship, or write something different than what I normally write? (‘normally’. Another Ha!) Says who? And that little short story exploded into a Steampunk-ish novel. Pinterest became my new best friend. I found that there does exist a Steampunk outside Victorian times, and outside of American or European cultures. On Saturday, I even attended a panel on such a topic held by an editor from Tor books. Through that discussion, I was able to break through a problem I’ve been facing in my own Steampunk world (thank you thank you, Peacekeeper). This weekend has been one of absorption and listening. Cultural immersion, in a way. I want to be able to write Steam (not its real name) as authentically and intelligently as I can, and I want others to understand the concept.

Imagination meets innovation.
Imagination meets innovation.

I tried explaining Steampunk to my writers’ group and got some pretty enjoyable blank-but-I-think-maybe-you’re-a-lot-strange stares. Same with my co-workers when I said why I’m running amuck for five days. And my boys, who wouldn’t do the Steampunk Halloween costumes I showed them years ago. Maybe the conversion of my boys is the most enjoyable of this weekend. #2 accompanied me on the writers’ panels, and was sitting next to me in the boiler room session, writing his new Steampunk-inspired idea furiously. My muse was telling me to be quiet and absorb/observe, so I had nothing. I watched him filling page after page, and was so proud. And then he read it aloud to them Sunday and I was amazed at how encompassing all those strangers were of him. He was looking forward to that moment all weekend, and they have now had a hand in shaping and encouraging him. I didn’t read his story beforehand, and could not believe he came up with that in just an hour.

I cried. I did.

Author Leanna Renee Hieber, reading from her latest, The Externa Files.
Author Leanna Renee Hieber, reading from her latest, The Externa Files.

#1 began attending panels of his own choosing Saturday, and hopefully finally has a hobby or an interest to attach to. Pre-teendom has jarred his younger self, and this is a good thing for him to enjoy. It is creative, and imaginative, and technical. He’s in a mad rush to start his Steampunk costumes right now. I have so much stuff we can use!……all stuck in storage until we get a house again.

How to make your own Steampunk-inspired weaponry. With Booger #2 in the front row/
How to make your own Steampunk-inspired weaponry. With Booger #2 in the front row!

I try not to tell them ‘I told you so……years ago!’.

Yea no. I did.

We admired the clothing and ingenuity of the attendees, the artistry of the vendors, the concepts of the authors. I bought two amazing Steampunk dragon and unicorn prints. You know I have to. (psst…..Red Moonglow on Snow). We enjoyed the characters people slipped into. I am most endeared by everyone as a whole, though.

So, I’ve got a year to get our Steampunk personas in gear. The boys have spent each night in the hotel googling how-to’s and formulating theirs. Can’t wait to see everyone next year!

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