Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Steampunk Ghostbuster, Part 1: MidSouthCon 33

It takes a lot to get most writers excited. Face it, we're a surly, neurotic bunch, constantly over-caffeinated, often sleep-deprived, and our heads all ache from staring at the dreaded blank page that, unless filled, means the end of our stint as an author.

But if you'll look at the MidSouthCon image above, you'll see something that actually made me perk up. Why, I even went so far as to open both eyes and even rise from my customary slump -- because my name is suddenly on the same page with luminaries such as Cary Doctorow and Melissa Gay.

I'm not comparing myself with Cory Doctorow. I'm not worthy to cap the man's pen -- but as Toastmaster of MidSouthCon 33, I'll get to sit at the table with the real Guests of Honor and hang out with them under no threat of being removed by security.

Not bad for a Mississippi kid most often described as 'that weird dude from Yocona.'

As Toastmaster , I get to speak at the opening ceremonies of the Con. I'll also be hosting a writing panel, entitled 'Humor in Fantasy' (dates and times to be announced). So if you're aspiring author or a reader who wants a peek behind the curtain, I invite you to look me on on the Con schedule and drop by.

I've attended MidSouthCon many times, but always in street clothes. This year, hang on to your top hats, gentle readers, because I am coming in full-blown cosplay, as Artemis Watson, Spectral Elimination Agent.

In other words, a steampunk ghostbuster.

My clothing I'm going to keep under wraps until the day of the Con itself. But what is a ghostbuster, even one from 1888, without his trusty positron collider backpack and beam thrower?

A sad man in a bowler hat, that's what. Since I can't exactly order a steampunk ghostbuster backpack rig from Amazon, I'm building my own, and I'm going to record the build here, week by week, in my blog.

Now, just in case you've never seen the movie classic 'Ghostbusters,' here's the proton pack from the original movie:

It's a nice piece of special effects gear. It looks just techy enough to be convincing.

But as my own rig needs to use the technology of a fictional Victorian 1888, my pack is going to be a bit different. No machined steel, no decals, no modern insultaed cables. Wood and brass and copper were the order of the day.

Now, keeping in mind I'm a writer, you can probably guess what my budget for this project might be. Go on, guess, and if you chose '20 bucks or less,' grab yourself a gold star.

So, of to my junk crate went I, heavy of heart but filled with purpose. Here are the parts I selected, minus the 3 inch PVC sewer pipes that didn't make it into the picture:

It's a humble pile of what can accurately be called junk. Plumbing leftovers, wire, defective engine parts, a toilet fill assembly, old printer cables -- just junk.

Now view the same junk (and a few strays added along the way) after being painted one of three colors -- gloss black, hammered brass, or bright copper. With no rhyme or reason employed to select what bits of junk wound up painted what. Let Chaos have a hand, I say.

It's all still junk, but now it's junk on a mission. And that mission is to somehow fit together into what fools people momentarily into believing they are looking at a machine of some sort.

I needed something to serve as a frame for my machine, and as luck would have it I found an old wooden serving tray that was stored improperly and wound up curling due to contact with moisture. The curvature is perfect to work as a backpack, and the dimensions of the board were just right. I sanded it, stained it, and then I spent most of today bolting various items of junk to it.

I give you the basic main component installation of my Victorian ghostbuster rig.

It is by no means finished. No. The finished version will feature lights -- lots of them. There will also be copper tubes and brass wires running everywhere, as well as dials and meters.

This is just the skeleton. Fleshing it out will take days. Imagine each of the doo-dads pictured above connected to all the others. Oh, and the bottom-most thingamabob?

It's transparent over parts of its surface. I'm going to fill it with eerie blue LED or EL lighting, to give the rig some flash. A lot of the exterior wiring will also glow, since EL (electroluminescent) wiring has gotten so cheap even I can afford it.

The weird rings are actually worn-out clutch plates from my motorcycle. The tall black thing beneath the crossing of the cables is the agitator motor from a Dyson vacuum cleaner. The cable things are old school serial printer cables, and the lighted display at the bottom is a CD-ROM case with part of an old deadbolt door lock housing attached.

The whole thing is a little more than two feet tall and about 14 inches wide (perfect as a back-pack). It's already pretty bloody heavy, and I haven't even put batteries in the tubes yet. I used bolts to attach everything, so there was a lot of drilling, but other than that the construction is basic.

I'd post a plan here but I don't have any such thing. I grab parts and if they look cool together and I can figure out how to make them fit, yay, they get added. Which is also my approach to life, I suppose, and yes it does result in the occasional hot mess.

Once the backpack is complete, I'll bolt a leather harness to it, and start work on the hand-held beam emitter. And I'll post all the pics here.

Oh yeah -- buy a book! Or leave a review! Remember, every purchase helps fund my acquisition of old vacuum cleaner parts and out-of-date discount bread. Thank you very much.


  1. Wow! Toastmaster - how absolutely awesome. I so wish I could attend one of these things, but like you, my budget is a wee bit low these days... have such a wonderful time!

  2. When might we expect the first book in the Artemis Watson series?

  3. When might we expect the first book in the Artemis Watson series?