Ione D: Birth of a Steampunk Heroine

Professor Ione D

Angelique Endres as Professor Ione D.

Ione D began with an effort by my then-girlfriend Arlys to promote my new steampunk novel, Fidelio’s Automata. She conceived of the character as a young Victorian-era girl who would travel to places mentioned in the book and write about aspects of the local culture, especially the cuisine. Her “Ione D” Facebook posts featured photos of the meals she prepared featuring Cuban, French, Western, and Native American dishes. The name was an homage to her parents, Ione being her mother’s middle name and Dee being her father’s. To create a face for the character, Arlys photographed her daughter Arlys Angelique in steampunk regalia of her own design.

I found the character to be so charming that I decided we would write a novel to give Ione D her own adventures. First was the matter of backstory: Ione would be the daughter of a US ambassador living in London, which would allow her to be a world traveler at an early age. Her mother is French and provides the impetus for her interest in cooking. Then there was the matter of the surname, which Arlys had envisioned as the initial “D” only. I discovered that there is a Welsh river which is called Dee by the English and Dfrdwy (differ-dwee) by the Welsh. Although most Welsh people have English family names, we decided that Ione’s Welsh-American father would be an exception, and take his difficult-to-pronounce name from that river.

I had always intended to list Arlys as my co-author, since she created the character, and gave her veto power over the character’s actions. To my delight she embraced an equal role in the writing, tirelessly editing and rewriting the manuscripts. Though the story lines and settings are mostly of my creation, Arlys has written a significant portion of the dialog, and she’s conceived many of the scenes that appear in the Ione D books. Without her participation, these stories would not be half as good as they are. She keeps me from going off into boring explanations and exposition and provides the woman’s perspective that we need to successfully write a first-person female character.

Epicurean Incident was my idea for the first book, but it proved to be more challenging than I’d expected. First of all, it is based on a cooking contest, something that’s largely outside my area of expertise. We re-wrote the original draft several times. In the interim, I stumbled upon a sci-fi folk tale competition and decided to write a short story in which Ione encountered magical artifacts in ancient ruins. By the time I was halfway done with this, I realized I’d misunderstood the contest parameters, and that what we had written didn’t fit them at all. That didn’t matter, because Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, a novella featuring the adventures of a 19-year old Ione in Guatemala, had captured our heart. It became the first published Ione D book, predating Epicurean Incident, which is set in 1901, when Ione (born 7/7/1877) is 24 years old and the youngest female college professor in America.

Once Mayan Marvel was finished, we returned to the matter of finishing Epicurean Incident. One factor that helped us was watching the popular anime Food Wars, which features teenagers competing for dominance in an elite cooking school in Japan. It convinced us that a story line involving cooking could have an audience. We also decided to make it a murder mystery, which provided an additional challenge. The original story was too linear, containing none of the misdirections that a mystery novel requires. We needed to learn to think a bit more deviously.

Now that Epicurean Incident is completed and posted to Amazon’s Kindle Direct, we can’t help but look forward to Ione’s next adventure, this time on the island of Crete. Ione is intelligent, spunky, and kind, but not infallible. She does not hesitate to speak her mind, but she is often indecisive in matters of love.

Search “Vaughn Treude” on Amazon.com. Ione’s new adventure should be available shortly. It’s a great read for young adult and other age groups.

 

Happy (Real) Victoria Day!

Queen Victoria, Photograph by Alexander Bassano, 1882

Queen Victoria, Photograph by Alexander Bassano, 1882

Today is the 198th anniversary of the birth of England’s celebrated Queen Victoria, namesake of the Victorian Era, which lasted from 1838 to 1901. It’s an official holiday in Canada, though they’ve adopted the American custom of moving people’s birthdays to Monday, so it was not observed today. It was also celebrated in the United Kingdom as “Empire Day” and later “Commonwealth Day,” until they moved it to March for some reason.

It’s also the day on which Arlys and I had planned to release the second Ione D adventure, Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident, in e-book form. It is exactly a year since we released the first Ione D book. And to answer the obvious question, Victoria Day seemed to us like the ideal day to promote a steampunk book. Sadly, we’re delaying the release, because we’re not quite done with the final edit. We estimate this should take us about a week. Stay tuned for more info, and Hail Victoria!

See our book Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, available as both e-book and paperback on Amazon.

Ione D – the paperback arrives!

Ione D paperback, cover and interior

Ione D and the Mayan Marvel

When I got home today, there was a box by our door – our first carton of our new steampunk novel “Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel”! As much as I appreciate the convenience of e-books, there’s something about holding the real thing in your hand for the first time. It’s like a newborn baby, except that it doesn’t pee all over you.

Cover photo: Arlys Endres. Illustration by Ben Gill.

Order your copy today from Amazon.com!

The Glory of Retro Design

RoverBoys

A vintage cover: The Rover Boys On Land and Sea, by Arthur M. Winfield, 1903.

While doing a web search for steampunk art, I came upon a site which displayed a number of pre-made covers for sale to independent authors. I can’t criticize their quality, as they featured high-res photos of attractive models in top hats, goggles, and bustiers. As good-looking as these designs were, they were too modern. They didn’t seem appropriate for a genre that celebrates the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. That kind of cover says 21st Century, not the Victorian era. That’s why I favor custom covers, in an attempt to simulate the look of an old-fashioned leather-bound volume. I contracted out the designs for the covers of my first two books, but for Ione D, I tackled the job myself. Though I’m no artist, I’m good at the Gimp (the Linux equivalent of Photoshop), so thank Cthullu for my collection of antique books whose copyrights have passed into the public domain. For Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, I adapted a 1918 German-language Artsongbook which I inherited from my grandfather. The attached image is we’d call a “young adult” novel, published in 1903, which I plan to use as the model for the cover of Professor Ione D. and the Epicurean Incident. Watch this site for updates and previews of future Ione D and Fidelio releases.

Steampunk Fashion Extravaganza

brittney_as_emma

Brittney Reed as Professor Ione D’s childhood friend, Mrs. Emma Farrington

My co-author Arlys once again proved her creativity and fashion sense in a steampunk photo shoot held at our house this weekend. In the above photo, Brittney Reed portrays Ione D’s best friend, Emma Farrington, from the upcoming second book in the series. Titled Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident, the story revolves around Ione’s visit to the First Royal Epicurean Exhibition in post-Victorian London. A number of mysterious mishaps arouse the suspicions of our intrepid heroines. Are nefarious parties conspiring to disrupt King Edward’s culinary initiative, or is it just bad luck?

brittney2

Arlys’ character-based photography sessions have been a fun and imaginative way to create graphics for our book covers and publicity releases, as well as provide guidelines for our artists’ illustrations. Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident is tentatively scheduled for publication next Victoria Day, May 24, 2017. Watch this site for updates and previews.

brittney3

 

Coming Soon: a New Ione D Adventure

Ione D in Steampunk Hat

Arlys Endres as Professor Ione D

While we prepare the Mayan Marvel paperback for production, my multi-talented co-author Arlys has been preparing for the second book in the series, Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident. Its publication is tentatively scheduled for Queen Victoria’s 198th birthday, May 24, 2017. Here we see our model Arlys Endres playing the globe-trotting young Professor, Ione Dyfrdwy. This time, we’re getting a jump on getting the illustrations for the novel ready ahead of time. We’ll be keeping you informed of our progress.

 

Announcing a New Flash Fiction Anthology

Announcing “Christmas in Love: A Flash Fiction Anthology” edited by George Donnelly and featuring a story by Yours Truly. This new collection of short works is now available on Amazon.

The Kindle version is available FREE for a limited time so act now!

From the description on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MQVG0JL

From an unexpected twist on a classic Christmas tale and a soldier returning home from war to a pair of girls waiting for an unlikely Christmas wish to come true and a creepy evening in a museum, fill your briefest moments with this collection of 18 flash fiction stories.
Commuting to work? Grabbing a quick coffee? Each story tells a complete tale in but a few short minutes with the added promise of a lifelong introduction to new indie writers.
You never know, you might just find your next favorite author.
Christmas in Love, the third anthology in the Flash Flood series, is a hand-picked selection of master works in romance, science fiction and fantasy themed for Christmas and guaranteed to keep you engaged.

If you like Christmas and science fiction, this would be a perfect (and frugal) gift for yourself or friends and family.

SELF-PROMOTION SUNDAY: Coming Soon from Ione D

Arlys Endres as Ione D

Arlys Endres as Ione D

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it’s been more fun since acquiring a collaborator, my amazing friend and partner Arlys Holloway. Though at the time she had little writing experience, she has proved to be a very capable co-author. Our character “Ione D” was her idea, as part of a Facebook campaign she devised to promote my steampunk novel, Fidelio’s Automata. Ione’s name is derived from the middle names of Arlys’ mother and father. I immediately fell for the character and decided that she had to star in her own series.

As a man, writing in first person for a female protagonist has been challenging for me. Arlys has been an incredible help, editing and rewriting my draft dialog from a woman’s perspective. Creating this series was partly a marketing move since these days women dominate the audience of avid readers. Though Ione is quite progressive for her time, to our sensibilities she’s a very old-fashioned and proper girl. We felt this would make Ione a refreshing change for the people of our cynical modern era.

Our first Ione D story, Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, takes place in the 1890’s as the 19-year-old Ione moves with her parents to Guatemala, where her father has been appointed the deputy to the US Ambassador there. There she visits the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal, makes an amazing discovery, and uncovers a sinister plot. Our second book takes Ione back to London, the city where she spent much of her childhood. She’s attending the first Royal Epicurean Exhibition, a pet project of the new King Edward. His Majesty aims to rehabilitate the image of English cuisine, featuring a fiercely competitive cooking contest. We’ve been working on it diligently and expect to release it early next year.

Another of our projects is to produce a paper edition of the Mayan Marvel book. Since as a novella it is shorter than a typical book, we plan to supplement it by including artwork at the beginning of each chapter. This project will hopefully be completed in early 2017 as well.

I’d like to remind readers that I haven’t given up my plans to publish a sequel of Fidelio’s Automata, called Fidelio’s Insurrection. The Ione D project has delayed my original plans to get to it next year, but I’ll get to that correctly.

Continue to check out my Sunday blog posts for news of another opportunity to win free books and swag from Nakota Publishing (that’s us!)

Review – Throne of Bones

I first heard of Vox Day in conjunction with the #Gamergate scandal. Day, also known as Theodore Beale, is a writer and game developer who’s become controversial for his outspoken conservatism. My first encounter with his work was a short political book called SJW’s Always Lie, a harsh critique of the so-called “social justice warriors.” The book outlines a simple strategy for protecting oneself from the fanatical progressives who try to silence anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders. Despite his tendency for hyperbole, I enjoyed Day’s abrasive style, and decided to take a look at his fiction. I selected his 2012 fantasy novel Throne of Bones, Arts of Dark and Light, Book One.

In its print version, Throne of Bones is approximately 850 pages, almost as long as a George R. R. Martin work. Due to my busy schedule, and the fact that I’m always reading several books at a time,it took me several months to finish it. But I persevered, and I found it quite enjoyable.

My biggest complaints about Throne apply not to this specific work but to the fantasy genre in general. I prefer novels of about half that length, so I can finish them in a reasonable about of time. There are also too many point-of-view characters and story threads. Just when I get caught up in one of these narratives, it switches to another. If there were just 2 or 3 threads, I’d read on, expecting the author would get back to it soon. When a novel has 7 or 8, I become frustrated.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to recommend this book. Of the plethora of characters, most are well-rounded and interesting. You might expect a notorious radical like Day would create characters who are purely good or evil. Thankfully, he does not. In that way, he’s a lot like (he’ll wince at this comparison) Game of Thrones Martin. This depth of character is complicated by their mores of their world, which are nothing like our modern, tolerant ways. Take for example the general Valerius Corvus, who has his own nephew executed for disobeying orders during a battle. He is a tough, unyielding bastard but is also one of the book’s most sympathetic characters.

The novel’s setting is Selenoth, a Tolkien-like fantasy world. It contains the expected races of humans, elves, dwarves, goblins, and orcs, with some interesting twists. In particular, the elves are not noble and pure like Tolkien’s; they possess a cruel sense of humor and have a xenophobic, genocidal history. Humans on Selenoth are organized loosely in three political groups. The first and most prominent in the story are the Amorrans, denizens of a Roman-type empire that speak a Latin-like tongue and practice a strict, quasi-Christian religion. They rule over a vast number of subservient cities and territories, none of whom possess Amorran citizenship. Secondly, there is Savondir, a neo-French kingdom with a complex aristocracy. Unlike Amorr, which forbids the use of magic on pain of death, Savondir employs battle-mages as part of its military forces. In the third group are the barbarian Dalarn, Viking-like reavers who inhabit the Wolf Islands in the far north.

Much of the action consists of warfare within and between the various human groups, as well as battles against the blood-thirsty, cannibalistic goblins. As I said before, Day does not soften these cultures in line with modern, Western sentiments. There is plenty of killing of and by the protagonists. Amorran martial discipline is enforced by the threat of summary execution. Male-female sex roles are similar to those seen throughout human history, with women taking a subordinate (though often conspiratorial) role. Only among the elves do females have a prominent place in society, due to the magic powers of their virginal sorcerer-priestesses.

My biggest issue with Selenoth society is the imbalance that should be caused by the Amorran ban on magic. I don’t understand how they would not be defeated by Savondir or the elves, both of whom have a magical advantage. The long-lived elves are relatively aloof from human concerns, but the Savonner nobles are as cruel, arrogant, and power-hungry as their Amorran counterparts.

Regardless of what you may think of Day’s politics (and I personally couldn’t care less about an author’s ideology,) Throne of Bones is a great read. If I were to subtract a star for anything, it would be the book’s marathon length and complexity.

The Penguin Makes Music

My fourth and final overview of open-source software for creative people involves music. In my youth I had many years of musical training, which until recently was going to waste. It’s not that I didn’t have the means – I own several electronic pianos – but I wasn’t motivated to play on a regular basis. Linux changed that, by making it easy to compose my own music, which makes things a lot more interesting.

Penguin_music

Linux has no shortage of musical tools available on-line. One thing that differs from the other areas I’ve discussed so far is that with music, one must use several tools in tandem. This is more in the spirit of the UNIX/Linux tradition of discrete components, rather than an all-in-one application such as “The Gimp” image editor or Libre-Office Suite. This allows for more flexibility but also makes things more complex. I’ll list the open-source tools I use for creating music, and you can be the judge.

* JACK

JACK (the JACK Audio Connection Kit) is a sound daemon (server) which provides the backbone of all music applications listed below. It’s like a virtual patch-board, allowing the interconnection of audio and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) data between “JACK aware” applications. Unfortunately, not all programs are configured to use JACK, which is why it’s not yet the de facto Linux sound system. Because it takes control of your system’s audio, you will need to turn it off to play sound from your web browser, for example.

* QjackCtl

This is a graphical tool for controlling JACK without the use of typed commands. QjackCtl creates a list of audio devices, both hardware and software, that can be used as inputs and outputs. It lets the user define input and output connections between them, like a virtual patch bay. It’s not strictly necessary but makes JACK a lot easier to use.

* Fluidsynth

In order to create music on a computer, you either need to record sound from an external device, or to create sounds using a digital specification. “Sound Font 2” is a popular format for the latter; it’s been widely distributed on-line. Like JACK, Fluidsynth doesn’t have its own graphic interface. I found it interesting that Fluidsynth’s default sound fonts contain all the same instrument voices (piano, organ, guitar, trumpet, etc.) as the built-in selections on my Yamaha electronic keyboards. I’ve also found free sound fonts on-line which can produce other sounds such as percussion.

* Qsynth

This is a graphical front-end application for using Fluidsynth, much as QjackCtl is an interface for JACK. I haven’t used Qsynth extensively, except to select sound fonts (voices) for the MIDI sequencer application I’ll describe next.

* Rosegarden

This is the program I spend most of my time using. Rosegarden is a application for music composition and editing. It includes a MIDI sequencer, which can be used as an input to capture notes played on a MIDI instrument (such as my aforementioned Yamaha keyboards.) To do this, I invested in a bit of hardware, the E-mu Xmidi 1×1, a specialized cable which connects the twin round MIDI connectors on my instruments to a USB port on my computer. (I ordered one from Amazon.com for under $30.) If you’re new to this technology, I should note that a sequencer does not record sounds but notes (pitch, duration, attack, etc.) which can be mapped to any sound. This allowed me to make my piano sound like a guitar, ukelele, and an electric bass. As an alternative to Qsynth, you can install the Fluidsynth plugin, which allows you to map an instrument voice to a given track directly in Rosegarden.

Once your melodies and harmonies have been captured, you can edit them in several formats, including the standard sequencer matrix display and old-fashioned music notation. Having had classical training, the latter is my preferred method. This allows me to capture a melody on paper simply by playing it on the piano. Since I’m not very adept in improvisation, it really helps to have the music in front of me. Thus I can improve and embellish on that first performance, re-recording and re-printing it as many times as necessary.

Sadly, I had issues with bugs. In the Linux world, we install applications from the Internet using a command called “apt-get”; this fetches a version of the program created specifically for your current version of Linux. Because I use an older installation of Ubuntu (14.04) and don’t want to update until the next stable long-term Ubuntu is released next spring, I was “stuck” with Rosegarden 13.06. This worked fine for composing, but there were problems when exporting my musical tracks as sheet music. Therefore I downloaded and built a newer Rosegarden (15.12) from source code. It’s a task not for the faint hearted, but it fixed most of my problems.

* LilyPond

If you want to print out the musical scores you create in Rosegarden, the LilyPond program is the best way to do it. LilyPond is a music engraving program, which produces high-quality sheet music from the LilyPond-format (.ly extension) files you can export from Rosegarden. It’s a command line program which accepts a file called “somefile.ly” and converts it to “somefile.pdf” in Adobe Acrobat format, which allows it to be viewed onscreen or sent to a printer.

As I stated earlier, Rosegarden 13 had a bug in producing the lilypond “ly” input files. This caused the Lilypond program to become “confused” about how music was to be broken up into measures, to the point that it would sometimes make a line of music run right off the page! I was able to edit the “ly” files in a text editor to fix these issues, but that was a time-consuming annoyance that made it well worth upgrading to Rosegarden 15.

* JACK Timemachine

If you want to convert your new music into an MP3 file that can be played on your phone or iPod, there are a few more missing pieces. Rosegarden lets you play your music files over your computer’s speakers, but to hear it on another device, you need a “recorder” application such as JACK Timemachine. When you launch this program it appears as a device in the configuration list of Qjackctl. You connect the output of Rosegarden to the input of JACK Timemachine, and then play and record your piece, which is saved as an audio file in 64-bit WAV (w64) format.

* Sox and LAME

Bear with me; we’re on the home stretch. The aforementioned JACK Timemachine is a very simple program that only records music in one format. To change it into a more usable file, you need a music converter such as Sox (Sound Exchange) the “Swiss Army knife” of audio file conversion. Sox is a command-line tool that allows you to convert the w64 files into more playable formats such as WAV and OGG. Unfortunately the popular MP3 file format is patented and technically requires royalties to be paid; therefore Sox (being free of charge) does not include the MP3 plug-in. For do that you must recompile the Sox program from source with an MP3 plugin (requires a fair bit of computer expertise) or better yet, install the “LAME” MP3 encoder to do that last conversion. Why Sox can’t include this function, and yet it can be in LAME as a separate program, I have no idea. Leave that one to the lawyers.

I apologize for this long post and hope it hasn’t been too intimidating. If open-source music tools are complicated, they make up for it in their flexibility and power. Best of all, they’re free, with plenty of help available online. Remember, most of these open-source programs are also available for Windows and Mac. Happy composing!