The Department of Curiosities

Today, I would like to welcome my friend Karen J. Carlisle to the blog. Our works have appeared together in three different steampunk anthologies: Denizens of Steam, Den of Antiquity, and DeadSteam: A Chilling Collection of Dreadpunk Tales. Karen has a new novel coming out tomorrow and she has agreed to share an excerpt from it. So, without further ado, I will turn the floor over to Karen.


Good morning everyone and thank you to David for allowing me to guest post on his blog.

So far on this blog tour, I’ve written about why The Department of Curiosities was written, introduced our heroine, Tillie Meriwether, and other characters and exposed some background on one of the many competing groups.I’ve chatted about mechanicals (gadgets), shared book trailers and a new short story and The Department’s Australian connection.

The Department of Curiosities is a tale of adventure, a heroine, a mad scientist, traitors and secrets. All for the good of the Empire.

Buckle up and get ready for the adventure…

Now there’s just one more day until my new book goes live on 22nd May. It’s also Tillie Meriwether’s birthday! (I chose Tillie’s birthday in the first draft – and had forgotten the date. Imagine my surprise when I realised it was the week of the intended release date. So why not make them the same day?)

To celebrate the official release, and Tillie’s birthday, here’s an excerpt… Everyone does the first chapter, so this time I’m sharing the second scene from chapter eighteen:


Of Airships, Trains and Flying Machines

The crew had assembled in Little Nessie’s lower hold. Only the pilot and boilermen remained at their posts. The General had yet to arrive, and Harrow was conspicuous by his absence. Tillie frowned, and wondered what mischief he was orchestrating.

She stood behind the troop of operatives gathered before her. She stretched up on tiptoe to observe the proceedings.

Six strapping men, some of England’s finest; each wore a harness wrapped around their torso. A life-line of thick silk rope attached them securely to the winch. They were armed with pistols, grappling hooks and devilish-looking knives. Strapped to their backs were over-sized blunderbusses: a silver ball jutted from one side surrounded by brass tubes, which coiled along the rifle’s barrel to the muzzle. A mini-grappling hook perched on top of the barrel end; its cord funnelled along a tube back to a cartridge on the other side of the rifle body.

The troops eagerly jostled each other as they circled a large hatch in the floor of the hull. They checked their equipment, donned their goggles and readied to jump into oblivion below. The hatch intrigued her, as did the large brass winch secured to the floor near its rim. Sir Avery checked the gauges on the body of the winch assembly and swallowed. The colour drained from his face, until he resembled a wide-eyed Ghostman. His moustache twitched.

<<It quivered,>> said the Orb.

<<Don’t be horrible,>> said Tillie. <<If you can’t say something nice, then don’t speak at all. Or I’ll ask the General to bring his cane.>>

The Orb shuddered. The corner of her mouth curled in satisfaction. She’d finally discovered something to curb the Orb’s increased bullying.

“Are we not joining them?” she asked Sir Avery.

He stared at the floor hatch and didn’t reply.

<<Reckless,>> said the Orb.

<<Not your choice,>> she said.

The Orb fell silent.

The door behind them clanked. The men snapped to attention.

There was a faint chuckle beside her ear.

“Yes, you are going, my dear,” said the General.

“We get to fly?” Tillie squealed with delight. “How?”

Sir Avery managed only a weak smile.

“You get these.” Harrow stepped into view, carrying a large cylindrical contraption on each arm. “Personal Flying Machines.”

“Confiscated from an Australian smuggler,” said the General.

Sir Avery relieved Harrow of one of the flying machines and held it at arm’s length.

“The cylinder contains a pressurised gas…”

His words faded as Tillie ogled the brass cylinders. So shiny. She could see her own reflection in their brilliance. She ran her hands along the pipes and grabbed the harness.

“How do I put it on?” She spun around, slipped her arms through the harness straps and pulled the contraption onto her back.

Sir Avery halted his lecture and blinked; his hands, still holding the harness straps, now encircled her waist. Her bustle nudged his arm as she snatched the ends of the straps from his hand and buckled up the harness.

He took a quick step backwards, transferring his hands to cradle the gas tanks until the straps were secure. The colour had returned to his cheeks.

Harrow handed Sir Avery the second Personal Flying Machine. Sir Avery donned the contraption and demonstrated how to adjust the pack to sit securely.

“You’re not accompanying us, Harrow?” she asked.

“I have my orders,” he replied. “I am to stay here with the General. The Personal Flying Machines are restricted to those with Lower Level clearance.”

Harrow’s face remained fixed, showing no emotion. He was up to something.

The Orb jittered. Tillie eyed Harrow out of the corner of her eye. She was not comfortable with leaving him alone with the General, in such close proximity of a gaping hole hundreds of feet above the countryside.

Harrow smiled at her. It was faint, but it was there.

<<He knows I suspect him. What should I do?>>

The Orb did not reply. She frowned; this time she wanted its opinion. She glanced at the General’s cane and frowned. Blessings could also be curses.

Sir Avery jiggled the gas canisters and tapped on the pressure gauge. Tillie relaxed her muscles, trying to look as calm as possible, and returned her attention to the Personal Flying Machine.

“How do I start it?” she asked Sir Avery.

“First we…”

He swivelled two metal pipe-handles over her head. They clicked in place. She grasped them.

“Steering?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “Just apply pressure in the direction you wish to travel.”

She pushed forward. The handles moved under her guidance.

“This,” he indicated a switch at the bottom of the main body of the pack, “is the ignition switch. And this…” He indicated a large button on the right side of the pack, about elbow height. “This will get you back to the ground if you lose power.”

Tillie grinned. It seemed simple enough.

The General stepped forward.

“Miss Meriwether and Gentlemen, I will remind you this is a retrieval mission. I have direct orders from Her Majesty. We need the Inventor alive.” He turned to the troops. “And intact. Is that understood?”

The men nodded.

“Once he is retrieved, and you are clear of the train, Little Nessie will descend to facilitate your extraction.” He turned to Harrow. “There is an extra flying machine prepared for you. Stop the train if there is any danger to the passengers.”

Harrow narrowed his eyelids.

“Sir?” he said. “I thought-”

“Change of plan. We need to ensure the safety of the other passengers on board. That is your priority.”

Harrow slipped on the flying machine and clicked the harness in place.

“Miss Meriwether, you are to accompany Sir Avery to First Class to apprehend the Inventor. The rest of the men will keep the Ghostmen from interfering.”

There was a murmur of assent.

She carefully lifted her goggles over her head, hoping it would not disrupt her coiffure, and wrangled a ringlet back in place. The dirigible and the General would be safer with Harrow on the ground, though she’d have preferred to have someone accompany him, to keep an eye on him. At least he wouldn’t have a chance to warn the Inventor.

The floor vibrated beneath her feet. A loud ratcheting echoed throughout the hold. A jet of air rushed through a crack at the rim of the hatch. The crack widened slowly, as the hatch slid open in front of them. Wind roared beneath them, whistling at the edge of the gaping maw.

Harrow stepped toward the hull hatch, flicked the ignition switch and stepped into the chasm. He hovered for a second, then plummeted out of sight.

She leaned forward and watched as he turned and sped northward toward the engine as it neared the bridge.

Little Nessie was now directly above the middle carriage, almost in position to drop the rest of her human cargo.

Sir Avery closed his eyes and ignited his flying machine. He winced as it rumbled into life, then took a deep breath and edged toward the hatch.

Tillie flicked the switch on her own contraption. A dull twinge gripped her rib cage as the initial vibration knocked on her spine. She took a, not too deep, breath and struggled to relax the muscles in her torso. The vibration settled into a gentle rhythm. The twinge eased until it was only a mild irritation.

Sir Avery leaned close to her. “Are your ribs still causing discomfort, Miss Meriwether?” he whispered. “You should inform the General.”

“They are healing as expected,” she replied. “There is no need to bother the General.”

He nodded. “Very well. Then follow me, Miss Meriwether, into the heavens.” He stepped into the air, screwed his eyelids shut and lowered himself out of sight.

Tillie stepped up to the edge. Her skirts fluttered in the churning air currents.

<<Oh dear, I didn’t think this through.>> She grabbed the back of her overskirt with each hand and folded the edges forward, tugging them tight to tie a knot and tucked the ends into the harness strap, then stepped forward and descended into the void.


The Department of Curiosities will be released 22nd May, 2019.

Watch the book trailers: https://karenjcarlisle.com/books/the-department-of-curiosities/book-trailers-the-department-of-curiosities/  or on Karen’s YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/kkZKisvU1Ks

If you want to follow the rest of The Department of Curiosities book launch blog tour, check out the links on Karen’s blog post: https://karenjcarlisle.com/2019/04/14/the-department-of-curiosities-book-blog-tour-schedule/

You can pre-order your eBook copy of The Department of Curiosities (for special price of US$2.99) at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/934976

or sign up for Karen’s newsletter at: https://karenjcarlisle.com/sign-up-email-list/

Follow Karen on:

Or support Karen on Patreon (for less than a cup of coffee a month and you get cool rewards!): https://www.patreon.com/KarenJCarlisle


Karen J Carlisle is a writer and illustrator of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition. Her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, was published in 2015 and her short stories have featured in the 2016 Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’, and the ‘Where’s Holmes’ and ‘Deadsteam’ anthologies.

Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.

She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.

www.karenjcarlisle.com

Holiday Owls

Since today is Christmas Eve, I thought it would be fitting to share a short excerpt from my novel Owl Dance. In this scene, Ramon and Fatemeh find themselves on the run with little money in San Francisco. It’s a simple moment that gets to the heart of the season. Keep reading after the segment to learn about a special event later this week.


Ramon returned to the room he shared with Fatemeh late on Christmas Eve. Fatemeh noticed he wore a new pair of glasses. Like his old pair, they were round and gave his face an owlish appearance. He held his hands behind his back. Fatemeh stood and wrapped her arms around Ramon, but was surprised when he didn’t return the embrace. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.” Ramon’s voice held a sly edge.

“It looks like you were successful in finding new glasses.”

 Ramon smiled.“Yes, these are even better than the old ones.” He shrugged. “The optometrist thinks my eyes have been getting a little worse.”

“That’s too bad.” Fatemeh returned to her chair.

“However, I did have enough money left over to get you something.” He brought his arms out from behind his back. In his hand was a narrow box, about eight inches long. “Merry Christmas!” Just then he pulled the box back. “Do Bahá’ís celebrate Christmas?”

“Not normally,”said Fatemeh, “but as I’ve said, we respect the teachings of Jesus. I’m happy to celebrate his birth with you, Ramon.” She held out her hand and Ramon handed her the box. She opened it and saw a necklace. Adorning it was a hand-carved wooden bead in the shape of an owl.

“I bought the necklace. I carved the owl myself, though.”

“It’s very sweet.” Fatemeh smiled and put the necklace on. She stood and kissed Ramon, but held his hands as they parted. “How is our money doing?”

“I think I can find a job, but it’s not going to pay much,” admitted Ramon. “We could stay here about six more days and I could keep looking, or we could move on.”

“I like the idea of moving on.” Fatemeh returned to her chair. “I really didn’t like the reception we had on our first day and it’s loud here, even late at night.” She looked out the window at a saloon across the street.

“Where would you like to go?”

She pulled out a map and set it on the small table between the room’s two chairs. “What do you know about Los Angeles?”

“It’s a small town. There’s some farms and some industrial work.” Ramon shrugged.

“What does Los Angeles mean?”

“It means ‘belonging to the angels,’ The name’s short for something like town of the queen of angels.”

“Sounds lovely. Can we leave tomorrow?”

Ramon laughed.“Tomorrow’s Christmas. I doubt the trains are even running. What about the next day?”

“That sounds perfect.” Fatemeh put her hand to the new necklace. “I’m afraid I didn’t get you a present. What else do people do on Christmas?”

“We sing songs.” Ramon sat in the empty chair next to Fatemeh.

“Teach me a Christmas song worthy of the angels, Ramon.”


I hope you enjoyed this little snippet of Owl Dance. On Friday this week, Lynn Moorer of KTAL Radio in Las Cruces will interview me about the fourth book of the series, Owl Riders. If you’re in Las Cruces, you can listen from 12:30-1:00pm mountain standard time by tuning in to 101.5 FM on your radio dial. If you aren’t in Las Cruces, or just don’t listen to shows on the radio, you can stream the show at  https://www.lccommunityradio.org/stream.html. I had a great time earlier this year when I spoke to Lynn about The Brazen Shark. Be sure to mark your calendars so you can catch the show live!

The Dead Planet

First off, for those in Las Cruces who missed me at Las Cruces Comic Con, I will be signing my novels tomorrow at Branigan Library in Las Cruces from 2-4pm. Hope to see you there!

Today, I’d like to introduce you to The Dead Planet, a science fiction novella by Canadian Author T.J. Ryan and the first part of the Broken Earth Saga. Ryan was born on the rainy West Coast (or is that wet coast?) of British Columbia. He spent his early years travelling the world, obsessing over new cultures and culinary experiences. Preferring spaceships to airplanes, he has now settled into his little slice of rainforest paradise, escaping reality through Science Fiction.

He is known for packing high levels of action and mystery into his writing, and his latest book, The Dead Planet has a growing number of 5 star reviews. TJ has a number of exciting new sci fi books planned for this year, including the second book to his Broken Earth Saga space opera series.

the-dead-planet-mockup

Here’s what the novella is about:

A dead planet. A rogue AI. A secret mission.

Tara Royce’s first day as the Academy’s newest Earth Defense Engineer was anything but ordinary. If humanity has any hope of returning to the dead planet in the next few thousand years, that is assuming it regenerates at all, they must first protect it from alien attack—and the Defense Engineers are its first and last line of defense. Aliens aren’t the only thing the new Engineer needs to look out for, though, and she soon discovers that the stakes are much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

    “I want to thank you.”

    The hatch closed behind her with a snap-hiss and she started down the handrails to the bottom level. “Thank me for what?”

    “For not disclosing the parameters of our mission.”

    “I don’t think this is ‘our’ mission, Aiden. That would have to mean that you let me in on it from the beginning. Instead, you’ve kept me in the dark this whole time, remember?”

    He was silent until she opened the door to the bottom levels. “Then I want to thank you…for keeping my secret from Engineer Tyrese.”

    “Sure, Aiden. Whatever.” The hall down here was dimly lit, with strips of light on the floor that led to the separate sections.

    “I would not have liked Tyrese to know what we are doing.”

    The armament section was the first door on the right. “Why would you care what Tyrese knows or doesn’t know?”

    “Because…I do not like him.”

    A sense of forbidding creeped up her spine. Aiden was doing it again. Sounding far too human and far too…interested in her. “You don’t like Tyrese?”

    “No.”

    “Aiden, you don’t know him.”

    “I know he wants to see you. I don’t like that.”

    She bit down on her lip. She was definitely going to have to inspect Aiden’s programming, whether he wanted her to see him naked or not. For the moment, she chose very carefully to not ask any more questions. She didn’t want to know what he was going to say next.

    Instead, she opened the door to the section where the weapons tubes were charged and loaded and maintained. Usually an Engineer would never have to come down here. The flash lasers were maintained by the droid crawlers on the rare occasions when something went wrong. Only Tara wasn’t looking for something wrong. She was looking for something that shouldn’t be there.

    Inside, among the standard configuration that she expected to see from the simulations and technical data specs, among the massive cable lines and sleek black tubes that carried the energy for the flash lasers, was something that definitely should not have been there.

    Twice as long as she was, sheathed in a spiraling metal shell, with four direction jets built into the fins at the back. A device perfect for launching through a planet’s atmosphere to the surface, and then retrieving it from there again.

    “Beautiful,” Aiden’s voice said to her. “Isn’t it?”

    She had to admit, it kind of was.

    “All right,” she said after another moment’s consideration. “Let’s go find out if the Earth is worth saving.”

You can find The Dead Planet on Amazon.

You can connect with T.J. Ryan on Facebook, Twitter, or at his blog.

777 Challenge

Steve Moore, author of Royal America, and fellow Denizen of the Scribbler’s Den on The Steampunk Empire challenged me to play the 777 game. In this game, we go to page seven of a work in progress, scroll down seven lines and post the next seven sentences.

777-Challenge

Since Steve is a fellow steampunk writer, I chose The Brazen Shark which has recently been handed off to the tender mercies of my editor:

    She took a sip, then dug into the hearty breakfast.

    Ramon gathered up the second plate and cup, but felt uncomfortable and lazy as he returned to the chair. Ramon had been many things including a sheriff and a ranch hand. He enjoyed working, but Captain Cisneros insisted Ramon and Fatemeh were guests and must enjoy their time together. Despite his lethargy, Ramon’s stomach rumbled. He gulped down breakfast and sopped up the leftover egg yolks and chile with a tortilla.

    “Slow down,” said Fatemeh.

As it turns out, I have two works in progress. My horror novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt is also in the hands of its editor. Here are seven lines to tease you about that novel as well!

    They progressed slowly and steadily about two miles until they came to a bridge over a place called Nana’s ravine. The car ahead hit a patch of ice and spun out of control. Mike’s mouth dropped open as the car slammed into the guardrail just beyond the bridge and toppled over the side.

    As Mike reached the bridge, he felt the wheels of his own car start to skid. He geared the engine down low and eased his foot onto the brakes. The car fishtailed across the bridge, but he maintained control. Once on the other side, he pulled up to the broken guardrail.

These challenges typically ask you to tag more people, but I like to leave these open-ended. Especially in this case I know a lot people who have already been tagged. If you’d like to play, just drop a link to your blog in comments and I’ll update the post with up to the first seven who respond.

Update: Challenge accepted! I tag:

  1. Maxwell Grantley
  2. Karen J. Carlisle
  3. Noelle Hardy, The Empress