Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Greetings! It's been a long absence from the blog, but I swear to you all it's not been intentional. The simple truth is that I've been writing and thinking very little about theatre recently, as I'm in the midst of writing my first full-length novel. A novel, unlike a play, is such a huge ravenous creature that it demands to be fed words not by the discreet sentence but by the paragraph, the page, the chapter. It's sucked the vitality away from almost all my other writing. Even my e-mails have grown telegraphic. 

So here's where I tell you what the novel's about: 

Steampunk, Seattle, Used Bookstores and Sherlock Holmes. 

There are crimes and at least one murder.  There is also an airship, and I'm not promising a duel on that airship, but that might happen too. Because one of the real advantages of writing fiction instead of plays is that my budget is limitless.

A lot of you know about Used Bookstores, and everyone knows about Sherlock Holmes. But what exactly is Steampunk?

In a nutshell, Steampunk is a multidisciplinary art and culture movement that draws from the glorious science fiction of the Victorians, particularly H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. It embraces fashion, fiction, music and social life. It's a bit Goth, if Goth could ever not take itself seriously. It's a lot geek, but the sort that enjoys technology that you can actually open up and take a shot at repairing or modifying yourself, even if you might get greasy.

And it's a completely gorgeous aesthetic.

I recently went on a tour of the Georgetown Steam Plant, a stunning old building that's an wonderfully no-frills industrial museum, with much of the original machinery. Built in 1907, the Plant supplied electricity to the entire neighborhood using several steam engines, powered first by oil, then by coal, then converted back to oil. 

Our guide had worked at the Plant back in the 1970s, and at the end of the tour took us up to a space between the three engines. "What you see here are 30 years of steam history all in one place," he said. "That one there, that's from the 1890s. That beautiful vertical engine there, that's from about 10 years later, and this third one, that's from 1920." 

 (The picture above is the vertical engine, which as he said was the prettiest.)

He described an experiment that he and a co-worker had tried years ago to see if they could get the vertical engine running using a compressed air pump. "We started it up, and it went AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRK, WWWERRRRRRAACK CREAK, just these godawful screams, but then it eventually got up to a low speed. Then a couple years later, we decide to see if we could get the boiler going, you know, actually get some steam in there. Well that was a whole other process, but we managed it. And you know, when it was running on steam, not cool air? It ran like a dream. The heat just made that machine purr."

I believe that a lot of things in life, including art, work the same way. Apply heat, let the pressure build, and you often find that the process is so much smoother. 

More about Steampunk soon.

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