Tag Archives: Victoriana

An All-New Kyoto Steampunk Story!


by Lillian Csernica on January 25, 2019

I am delighted to announce the release of Next Stop on the #13, the fourth steampunk anthology featuring stories by the authors of Clockwork Alchemy.

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In The Badger Epidemic, Dr. Harrington is forced to ride a train bound for Osaka through a region afflicted by a cholera epidemic. The Japanese workers needed for building the railways and telegraph lines believe the cholera is spread by the new technology from the West. The British officials insist Dr. Harrington ride the train and prove the superstition is nonsense.

What awaits Dr. Harrington out in the darkness on those lonely train tracks is a danger even greater than the threat of cholera itself.

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Join us for Clockwork Alchemy 2019. Get your copy of Next Stop on the #13 and have it autographed by the authors of each story, including the master of alternate history, Harry Turtledove!

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How To Edit My NaNoWriMo Roughdraft?


by Lillian Csernica on January 16, 2019

2069836It’s time to clean up the NaNoWriMo novel. I have several intense scenes, some good action, and two or three potential plotlines. How do I clean this up? Where do I start?

First, I have to finish typing in all the handwritten material created during my coffeehouse marathons. That allows me a certain amount of editing, but mostly I just want to get all of the manuscript on disk. It’s comforting, really. I hadn’t realized just how much I did write and from so many different characters’ points of view.

Second, I need to figure out who the hero of my story is. Since this is meant to be a Kyoto Steampunk novel, the obvious choice would be Dr. William Harrington, main character of all but two of the seven short stories in the series. Who changes the most over the course of the story? Is it Dr. Harrington, or is it his daughter Madelaine?

(Yes, I did say seven. The latest Kyoto Steampunk short story, The Badger Epidemic, will appear in Next Stop on the #13, available at Clockwork Alchemy 2019!)

page_1_thumb_largeAt the Night of Writing Dangerously, we all received tote bags which included a copy of Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody. This book is God’s gift to the novel writer, thanks to Ms. Brody’s skill at breaking down and explaining in detail the fifteen story beats that are essential to a strong, successful story. Given what Ms. Brody demonstrates, I know I face crucial questions in sifting through my roughdraft to find the moments that match some or all of those fifteen story beats.

Having done a bit of flailing around while I did my best to achieve my daily word quota, I’ve written a lot of material that could take the story in at least half a dozen directions. Lining up the scenes I’ve written in something approximating chronological order should point the way toward further complications and rising action. While I often work from plot outlines, this time I’ve been extrapolating from the events occurring in the Kyoto steampunk short stories. The consequences of some of those events are now catching up with Dr. Harrington, Madelaine, Constance, and Nurse Danforth.

The novel length has allowed me to introduce new characters, three human and three non-human. The humans are members of the British expatriate society in Kyoto, all of whom have some degree of power to affect the course of Dr. Harrington’s stay. Of the three non-human characters, two are earthly gods while the third is a monster of uncertain provenance. There are few things I enjoy more than squeezing poor Dr. Harrington between the pressures of Victorian social etiquette and the unfamiliar rules that govern the gods and monsters of Japan.

Third? I don’t know what will happen next. I’m just as excited to find out as I hope my readers will be!

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How Writers Dress for Success


by Lillian Csernica on August 6, 2018

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On days when I’m not going to be leaving the house, I observe the time-honored tradition of working in my Bathrobe. By the end of the day I’ve usually accumulated an interesting variety of odds and ends in the pockets.

In my right pocket, where things most often end up, I have my comb, two small butterfly paper clips, an unopened alcohol wipe, and a green plastic fly.

In my left pocket, where I carry more important items, my SFWA secret decoder ring awaits being used on relevant emails.

My nightstand is littered with the bits and pieces I pull out of my pockets before I go to bed at night. I’ve learned to make a ritual of this. There’s nothing like a few harsh metallic noises coming from the washer or dryer to cause the Spousal Unit unwelcome distress.

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There are different schools of thought on how writers should suit up for their daily work count. Some dress as if they were going to the office, because that is what they are doing. Some dress in a manner that helps them connect with the material they’re working on. I find that idea entertaining. If I were to dress in a manner suitable for the heroine of my current novel, I’d be wearing a yukata and zori. For the short story in progress, Victorian attire of the 1880s. Of the two I’d choose the yukata for summer comfort and ease of movement. I’ve worn corsets, but I confess I’m not a big fan of steel boning.

Pro tip: Nothing says we have to look like the back of the book photo all the time.

Back to the Bathrobe. Built for comfort, if not for style. When I’m writing, I want no distractions. If my shoes annoy me, I take them off. If the clip in my hair isn’t comfortable, out it goes. I’ve never carried this idea to its ultimate extreme, largely because I do most of my writing either at my favorite coffeehouse out in public, or here at home on the living room couch. Neither is an appropriate context for creating while I’m in my birthday suit.

I find that I do my best work when I’m comfortable. This means more than just wearing slippers and sitting in a comfy chair, although those can be important elements. I can’t write when I’m hungry. I really can’t concentrate when my blood sugar is low. I need a certain amount of background noise to help me focus. I don’t mind being a little cold, but I can’t stand being too hot. Total silence makes me jumpy, because the selective hearing I’ve developed over 22 years of having a medically fragile son keeps me alert for the sounds I should be hearing.

All this explains why I hang out at my local Peet’s Coffee so much. It provides everything I need to do good work.

There’s one really great aspect of the Bathrobe. Remember when we were little kids and pinned towels around our necks for capes? Or we used those old sheets to make a pillow fort? We could be anybody in those capes. The pillow fort could be a crater on Mars or the penthouse in Tahiti. That’s what the Bathrobe does for me. Because there’s no pressure, there’s no appearance to maintain, I can relax and be whoever I need to be for that day’s writing. Let the record show I own three different bathrobes.

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In her article about Authors and the Clothes They Wore by Terry Newman, Vanessa Friedman writes:

As Ms. Newman discovered, Virginia Woolf actually had a name for this awareness: “frock consciousness.” She used it to refer to the way she employed clothing to denote character, and changes in character, particularly as they applied to her book “Mrs. Dalloway.” But really, it’s a (not surprisingly) perfect turn of phrase that could apply to us all.

What do you wear when you write? Do you have a favorite set of writing clothes?

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#atozchallenge: P is for Physician


by Lillian Csernica on April 18, 2018

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I routinely refer to my hero as Doctor Harrington, but he is in fact a physician. In the medical hierarchy of Victorian England, this was an important distinction.

From The Steampunk Tribune:

Physicians had the most prestige in the 1800s. They were called physicians because they only administered drugs, or “physic”. They did not deal with external injuries or perform surgeries or set bones or do physical exams, other than the patient’s pulse and urine. They took detailed case histories and then wrote out a prescription to be filled by an apothecary…To practice as a physician in London, you had to be licensed by the Royal College of Physicians. If, in addition, you had gone to Oxford or Cambridge, you could become a Fellow of the College (F.R.C.P.) too, which meant a good deal more status, exemption from unpleasant things like jury duty, and the right to a say in the internal governance of the college.

William Harrington has not yet been knighted by Queen Victoria, but spending three to five years serving the Crown in the Far East would certainly make him a strong candidate for such an honor. It would also qualify him for the Order of St. Michael and St. George, bestowed on civilians who have rendered extraordinary service to the Crown in a foreign country.

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From Jane Austen’s World:

Doctors and physicians occupied the highest rung on the social ladder. Such citizens were considered gentleman because 1) their training did not include apprenticeship and 2) the profession excluded, supposedly, manual labor. Doctors were permitted to dine with the family during home visits, while other practitioners took dinner with the servants. A physician’s fee was wrapped and placed nearby, for theoretically gentleman did not accept money for their work.

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#atozchallenge G is for Garden Party


by Lillian Csernica on April 7, 2018

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One of the key elements of the Kyoto Steampunk series is writing each story from a different character’s point of view. Blown Sky High (Thirty Days Later) features a garden party presided over by Constance. This was an excellent opportunity to let the reader into her mind and see just how Constance is coping with the challenge of navigating through Kyoto’s expatriate society along with all the Japanese diplomats Dr. Harrington encounters.

A Victorian garden party is a lavish affair, held outdoors in a fine English garden full of stately oaks, manicured hedges, and an abundance of flowers. In 1880, did Kyoto provide the necessary landscape? Traditional trees in a Japanese garden included pine, bamboo, and plum. Because they do so well in winter, they symbolize steadfastness, perseverance, and resilience.

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Springtime flowers in Kyoto include irises, azalea, hydrangea, plum blossoms, and waterlilies. Best of all are the roses. If you’re planning a visit to Kyoto, be sure to see the Kyoto Botanical Garden.

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Blown Sky High is an important story in the series. It’s more lighthearted, and it takes a look at the expectations placed upon “the fairer sex.” When events at the party take a sudden unexpected turn, Constance must look to Madelaine and her bluestocking habits to save the day. To learn more about Victorian women who redefined their roles in society, please read this excellent article.

 

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#AtoZChallenge: D is for Danger


by Lillian Csernica on April 4, 2018

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Many dangers lie in wait for Dr. Harrington, his wife Constance, and their daughter Madelaine when they move their entire household to Kyoto, Japan. While it is a great honor for Dr. Harrington to be chosen by Queen Victoria and the Emperor Meiji, it is a challenge that will demand all the strength, skills and social graces possessed by each family member.

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Nurse Danforth rises to the challenge of saving Madelaine’s life by confronting Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos.

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Madelaine, just nine years old and already a mechanical genius, must survive a life-threatening fever. Then comes the challenge of convincing Dr. Harrington the gods and monsters of Japanese mythology and folklore are real and must be taken seriously. When Madelaine is targeted by one especially clever monster, she must draw on her skills both mechanical and folkloric to protect her family.

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Constance exists in a state of endless bewilderment as she fights a daily battle to bring all the graces of Victorian England to the strange and incomprehensible world of Japan during the Meiji Restoration. This might not sound as dangerous as the threats faced by Dr. Harrington and Madelaine, but success as a hostess in support of her husband’s social position was a Victorian woman’s reason for living.

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Dr. Harrington takes on the lion’s share of danger. Amatsu Mikaboshi‘s determination to restore the balance of honor lost in his confrontation with Nurse Danforth puts Dr. Harrington in the perilous position of protecting the Abbot. Dr. Harrington also faces political and ethical pressures when he follows the Abbot of Kiyomizudera’s advice and does what must be done to escape the wrath of the wanyudo.

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Yet More Good News!


by Lillian Csernica on February 28, 2016

 

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A brand new release from Thinking Ink Press!  Included are my stories “Putting on Airs” and “Blown Sky High.”  I am proud and honored to share the Table of Contents with such masters of fiction as Harry Turtledove, David L. Drake, and Katherine L. Morse.

If you enjoyed my stories “In the Midnight Hour” and “A Demon in the Noonday Sun” which appeared in Twelve Hours Later, then you’re sure to have a good time reading the further adventures of Dr. William Harrington and his mechanical genius daughter, Madelaine.  The creatures of Japanese myth and folklore have more dangerous business with the Harrington family!

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Drink from a Different Well


by Lillian Csernica on October 14, 2015

I’ve been working hard lately on two short stories that will appear in 30 Days Later, the follow-up anthology to 12 Hours Later.  The stories are set in the same milieu, Kyoto 1880.  My main characters, Dr. William Harrington, his wife Constance, his daughter Madelaine, and Nurse Danforth, are all upstanding subjects of Queen Victoria adjusting to life in a foreign country.  Two factors make this adjustment even more challenging.  One, Madelaine has taken an interest in clockwork and other machinery.  Two, the Harrington household keeps attracting the attention of various Japanese supernatural beings.

Does it sound like a strange mix?  It is, and that means research.  Lots and lots of research.  One minute I’m reading up on Victorian fashions, and the next I’m learning exactly why two pulleys are better than one.  I have to stop thinking of Madelaine’s bedroom as being “upstairs.”  Victorian mansions had two floors, sometimes more.  Japanese houses are typically one floor.  I have to load my brain with the correct information.  Facts + imagination are the warp and weft of historical writing.

Unfortunately, a frequent side effect of writing that requires a lot of research under the pressure of a looming deadline is mental fatigue.

I have just discovered a new way to cure mental fatigue that brings with it an additional bonus.

Before the boys came along, I cooked all the time.  I invented my own variations on the recipes in my cookbooks.  Now, Michael is on a liquid diet.  John has the ASD trait of being very finicky about what he will and won’t eat.  Chris works swing shift.  Thanks to insomnia, the boys, and my writing, I never know what my schedule will be like.  Bottom line, cooking and I have become strangers.  I love to eat, but I’m more gourmand than gourmet.

The mental fatigue hit me hard a few days ago. Out of curiosity I started watching “Food Network Star,” the reality TV show where three established Food Network experts mentor fourteen hopefuls through the competition to acquire what it takes to be the new Food Network Star.  Every week some of the hopefuls are eliminated until it comes down to the final three.

I like game shows.  I like cheering on my favorite players.  I like the way reality TV works (most of the time).  So watching this show is fun, entertaining, and relaxing.  It does not require the attention, the focus, and the retention of information that research demands of me, to say nothing of the hard work of actual writing.  Fresh input.  Stimulating another area of the brain.  Taking the pressure off.  All of that is important.

Now here’s the bonus: the process of becoming a Food Network Star is all about finding what is unique about you and what you bring to the entertainment marketplace.  The particular slant here is food and cooking, but we all know that today branding is the name of the game.

One of the biggest challenges for the competitors is learning how to describe a meal in thirty seconds.  Words.  It’s all about vocabulary.  Another challenge is to show the real you, your personal flair.  A big priority is to make a connection with the audience.  On TV that’s done through the camera.  For writers, it’s done on paper, but that connection is still essential.  Hook your reader.  Establish sympathy for your main character.  Make your customer CARE!

See what I’m saying?  There I was, watching this elaborate game show about cooks hoping to become media stars.  Suddenly I realized I was hearing advice and learning skills that could do me a lot of good as a professional writer.

When you hit the wall of mental fatigue, when you can’t stand another moment of what you’re doing but you have to keep on keeping on, go drink from a different well.  Go listen to NPR.  Go watch an expert talk about resurfacing a road, childproofing a house, or bathing an elephant.  Who knows what gems of information or inspiration you might discover?

How do you deal with it when you’re tired of writing?  How do you keep going when the clock is ticking and there’s no time to waste?

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Meet the Real Me, Live and In Person!


by Lillian Csernica on May 16, 2015

Convention season is underway, which means I’ll be out and about performing my Shameless Self-Promotion Road Show.

Memorial Day Weekend is just around the corner!  I will be appearing at two, count ’em, TWO separate conventions!

FRIDAY

At Clockwork Alchemy:

5 to 6 p.m. “Nemo’s Realm: Steampunk Underwater.”

6 to 7 p.m. “Steampunk Alchemy.”

7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Twelve Hours Later release party!

At BayCon:

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8:30 p.m. Horror Addicts.net BoF/Author Showcase

Hang out with fellow horror fans!  Meet some of the Horror Addicts!  Win prizes!

SATURDAY

At BayCon:

4 p.m. Death panel — How our culture deals with death, or fails to.

I’ll be telling the true story of what happened in 1987 when I died in a car accident!

At Clockwork Alchemy:

6 to 7 p.m. “Steampunk Trinkets”

8 to 10 p.m. “Steampunk Mythology”

Come one, come all!  We’ll be breaking down steam power to its component parts, then dreaming up gods, goddesses, spirits, elementals, and other appropriate Powers That Be to preside over each component.  Be there for the creation of the first Steampunk Pantheon!

SUNDAY

At BayCon:

11:30 a.m. “Vic Spec Fic”

This is short for Victorian Speculative Fiction, best typified by Jules Verne.  There’s a whole lot more worth exploring, so come join my fellow panelists as we compare and contrast the best and the worst of the period!

MONDAY

To Be Announced.  I have no official commitments right now, but you know me!  I’m sure to be up to something!

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Clocking In, Clocking Out


Lillian Csernica on May 25th, 2014

 

Busy busy busy day!  For some insane reason I was awake by 8:30 a.m.  It might have had something to do with the somnolent sound effects from Pat’s side of the room, but maybe what I heard was just some maid being a little too enthusiastic with a vacuum.  That’s all right.  I took a shower, made myself presentable for the public, and got a good head start on a problem I discovered when I checked my panel notes for today.  I’d forgotten to print out the latest update of my notes for the “Steampunk in Japan” panel.  I knew the hotel had an Office Center, but I did not think it would be open on a Sunday.  I was right.

 

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So off I went to Guest Services.  That’s such a plain phrase.  I much prefer the term “concierge,” don’t you?  Guest Services is a department, but the concierge is the Person Who Handles The Problem.  Sure enough, the nice fellow there directed me to a PC complete with printer in the lobby.  Once I figured out which USB port was the right one, I opened the file, printed my notes and all was right with my world.  The Hilton now owns the Doubletree, and I must say the new management has made some good improvements.  Anybody who makes my life easier is a winner in my eyes!

Now it was time to continue Map Quest!  Off I went to the Caravan Bazaar, determined to hunt down the last two stamps I needed.  I found the Handmade by Droids booth.  I had to pass their challenge in order to win their stamp.  They asked me to do my best impression of “a steam-powered penguin in a mad rage.”  Oh wow!  Good thing I’d taken that Improv training with the commedia dell’arte troupe back in the days when Northern Ren Faire made you take workshops.  Imagine me waddling side to side with my arms flapping stiffly while I alternated “Squawk squawk squawk!” with chuffing and hissing noises.  Did I get the stamp?  Oh yeah!

 

My final destination kept eluding me.  I learned later that I kept missing the booth because “The sign was hidden behind the shrunken heads.”  I went back to the Sacramento Steampunk Society table to throw myself on the mercy of the lady in charge.  I pled my case, mentioning that I had lived up to the challenge of the steampunk penguin impression.  You know what happened next, right?  That’s right.  I had to do the penguin impression again.  I won the badge ribbon of white satin with a metallic red trail leading to the X that marks the spot.  Two high quality chocolate coins came with it.  The dear lady brought out the “special prizes for the people we really like.”  In a variety of small ornamental tins were tiny sewing kits, just what attendees of this costume-oriented con would enjoy!  I chose the ginger tin because that enabled me to return the lady’s kindness by reaching  into my purse and pulling out a ginger candy.  She was delighted.  I now sport a Society pin on my badge lanyard.

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I came back to our hotel room around 1 p.m.  Pat was up.  I was torn between calling the maid to tidy the room and just falling over for a nap.  I did call the maid, and she turned out to be this really sweet older lady from the Canton area of China.  We got to talking, and she asked me if I spoke any Chinese.  I can say “Nihao,” “shay  shay nee,” and “doh jay sai.”  (They mean “Hello,” and “thank you” in both Mandarin and Cantonese.  Please forgive my transliteration.  It’s the best I can do.)  The maid gave me an approving laugh.  I pulled my cross chain out from under my blouse to show her the small piece of jade I wear, Taiwanese jade that my mother gave me.  The length of the chain allows the jade to rest next to my heart.  When the maid saw that, she threw her arms around me and hugged me.  I love meeting new people, I really do, especially people from other countries.

Soon it was time to get some food into me before my panel at 5 p.m.  The menu in Sprigs was the same as the bar, which makes sense during a con.  That meant I had the linguine and meat balls again.  Hey, I know what I like.  Jeffrey went dashing by again in his attire as The Phantom of the Opera.  Since he was in character, I called out “Eric!” but that didn’t work, so I tried “Jeffrey!”  There’s something about his presence that demanded I rise to meet him.  We chatted for a few minutes and he was off again.  At some point in the day I had an opportunity to tell his wife Sharon how much I appreciated the talk Jeffrey and I had yesterday.  She was very pleased to hear it.  She knows what a gem she has in him.

Then it was Magic time!  I was worried about what size audience I might have because it was in the window of dinner time.  Fortunately, at least a dozen people turned up for “Making Magic Meaningful.”  (I am now OUT of bookmarks.  I knew I should have made the wine-colored set!)  Creating magic systems for fantasy fiction and gaming is one of my favorite subjects.  Programming gave me 90 minutes for the panel, and I needed it.  Each section of my panel notes corresponds to chapters in The Writer’s Spellbook.  I can go into as much or as little detail as people want on any of the many aspects of creating a strong, consistent magic system.  We had a good time.  I called on Pat to speak at points when her particular adventures in fantasy and forensics have led to either knowledge or experience by turns fascinating and freaky.

After the panel we went out into the hallway so Con Ops could pack up and secure the room.  A cluster of folks stayed with me, including Matthew and Mark.  Matthew is a delightful 15 year old boy who kept thanking me for helping him see what he needed to think about to fix his story.  I encouraged him to tell me about the plot.  As he went along I asked questions about cause and effect between events, character motivation, the real problem at the heart of the story, and who hired the bad guys.  As we went along, Matthew began to understand the importance of backstory and the details of how his world works.  Bright kid, very excited about what he’d learned from my talk.  I made sure he had my blog URL and told him I’d be happy to answer questions and talk writing with him.  I’m all for helping young writers who are just starting out.

Mark was closer to my age group.  He’s a member of RWA!  We got to talking about a very complex storyline involving shapeshifters and a secret temple in the wilds of Turkey.  Pat and I directed Mark to some books and movies that might provide more ideas and some different angles on the issues he wants to address.  He plans to get “The Writer’s Spellbook,” which is always good news to me.

In a surprisingly short time, 9 p.m. was upon us, time for Pat to present her talk on “Sky Warriors.”  It was just the two of us sitting there, wrestling with the Power Point projector as usual.  Around 9:15 p.m. we were joined by a couple that boggled my mind.  All in black, a cross between Elizabethan, steampunk, sky pirate, and a dash of Goth, they made an impressive pair.  I can now say I have seen a steampunk codpiece.  Pat gave her talk, and the gentleman of the pair asked some knowledgeable questions.  He’s a pilot, so he knew some of the more modern history of airships, dirigibles, blimps, etc.

My feet were ready to give it up for the day.  Pat made the night’s cookie raid on the front desk, and now here we are, snug in our hotel room, ready to watch some action movie or more episodes of “Forensics Files.”  Tomorrow we have “Steampunk in Japan” and “Steampunk CSI” back to back, and then I’m going to see the Japanese sisters do their naginata demo.  That should be great!

 

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