Blue Caldera

The Steampunk Detective Stories of V.S. Velde

Why I NaNoWriMo

I've written novels before. Not as V.S. Velde, but under a different name. They were long, literary things that I spent years on, and I'm very proud of them. But last year I was going through a phase where I was grinding my wheels. I was spending time writing, but I was not particularly happy with what I was producing: I could tell it wasn't adding up to a quality story, and that left me feeling anxious that I was squandering what little writing time I had. 

So in late June, I decided to shelve the story I was working on, take some new ideas, and work on them through the July session of NaNoWriMo. Being an obsessive planner, I wrote out a 5,000 word outline, and on July 1, began Blue Caldera. For the entire month, I wrote every day, at least 500 per day but keeping an average of just over 2,000 per day. It was one of the most productive periods of writing in my life. What I produced was a solid draft for Blue Caldera, and over the next couple months, I polished it into a finished manuscript. 

It's now November, and I'm busy at work on the sequel to Blue Caldera. I'm excited to be working with Ettie Thompson again, giving her new mysteries and problems that will challenge her intellect and force her to grow further as a person. Again, I'm energized by the process. 

I think the best thing about a binge-writing period is that it encourages one to separate the act of writing from planning and editing. There simply isn't time to plot out one's story midway through the month. Nor is there time to edit. So I spend the weeks leading up to the month mind-mapping, outlining, doing character studies and dialogue studies. By the time I start writing, I feel like I know exactly where the story is going. And while that may change, it only changes with purpose: I'm never merely casting about for a direction. 

In July, I wrote in three passes: the first was primarily dialog, the second action, and the third, description and internal monologue. There was certainly overlap between these three passes, but it was successful enough that I'm using the same process again.

I look forward to talking more about writing process as the month unfolds. Right now, I'm about 7,000 words in, and perhaps a little over-confident, lacking some of the urgency that I had in July.


Ettie Thompson, investigator

My protagonist, Ettie Thompson, came out of a secondary character for a different, now abandoned, writing project. Possibly she was the most interesting thing in it. I liked the idea of a lady detective who both echoes and subverts notions of the hard-boiled crime detectives like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. As a detective, not only able to work through complex puzzles but to also be able to navigate through situations in a way that most cannot. At the same time, she is, in Blue Caldera, at the beginning of her career as a detective and her lack of confidence works against her; in part this stems from her inexperience, but it also stems from being a woman in a man's profession. Her education in mathematics and career as a codebreaker have given her a specialized and useful skillset, but she lacks many of the skills that more seasoned detectives have picked up over a lifetime in the field. 

I also love the notion of the detective as the damaged moral figure: the person who carries guilt with them, and is attempting to work out not only the truth, but also how to best restore moral balance. Ettie drinks too much. She's attracted to the wrong sort of man. She's not above making very bad personal decisions. These are the things that make her an intriguing character to write about, and I'm already looking forward to seeing how she grows as a person and as a detective as a result of the events in Blue Caldera. This is in some ways her origin story. 

About the Hudson Archipelago

The Hudson Archipelago is the setting for Blue Caldera. It is set in an alternate world very similar to ours but a few major geological differences: primarily, the North American, South American, and Caribbean tectonic plates are mostly submerged, resulting in a vast ocean stretching from Europe to Asia. Roughly in the middle of this ocean, in a location similar to the Yellowstone Caldera in our world, lies a volcanic archipelago of islands. The history of the world roughly mirrors our own with similar events and historical figures, although the timing and details of this history often much different than in our own world. Blue Caldera and its related stories focus on this archipelago, and this article serves as an introduction to it. 


The largest islands are two crescent moon shaped masses that face each other across a deep channel. this central low area is a crater from a massive caldera eruption. Volcanic features including thermal pools and geysers dot the island. Tall, mountainous features are capped with glaciers, and cut through in the north with deep fjords. Away to the northeast, a few younger, active volcanic islands demonstrate the movement of the hot-spot beneath the surface. 

Flora and Fauna

The flora and fauna of the island lives in defiance of harsh elements. Few tree species have gained foothold on the island, with wind-warped cypress the most notable. However, shrubs and grasses cover most of the sub-alpine slopes. Birds of a great variety nest throughout the island, as there are few endogenous predators. Seals and walrus live along the rocky shores; bats live in the many mountainous caves. But the most famous of species on the island were a species of mammoth. I say were, as these are now extinct from the island, the only remaining population of them living in captivity in London. It is of great speculation and debate amongst evolutionists as to how this population came to live on the island in the first place. The original name of the islands, as named by their earliest settlers, was Filarland, or land of elephants. 

These earliest settlers also brought the primary predator to the island: the wild fjelletkatt (mountain cat), a descendent of the Norwegian skoggskatt (forest cat). These cats are numerous in the alpine bushland of the islands, finding easy pickings amongst the many nesting birds there. 

Human history

That brings us to human history of the archipelago. The original settlers set out from Norway, restocked in Iceland, and from there continued West, believing there to be land in that direction. The expedition was mostly lost at sea, but two boats were swept westward and were shipwrecked on the archipelago. With little to repair their ships, they remained on the island, living a hunter/gatherer/fisher lifestyle. 

The islands remained unknown to Europe until well after Columbus's third expedition in which he finally reached the Philippines. The exact history here is not well-documented, so it is easiest to tell from a European perspective: the trans-atlantic trade had been well-established, with the British/Japanese alliance one of the more dominant powers in the Atlantic. However, Barbary piracy was becoming problematic, and was no more contained to the Mediterranean but was creeping out into the mid Atlantic. 

Henry Hudson

A young captain named Henry Hudson believed that the extent of Barbary piracy indicated that they had a base of operations in the North Atlantic. He received a fleet of ships with which to attempt to hunt down the pirate island. This mission was spectacularly unsuccessful, with most of the fleet lost in the hunt, and Hudson himself disgraced. Still convinced that the island was out there, he took on the identity of an escaped convict, moved to Morocco, spent a decade immersing himself in Berber culture while taking a series of jobs on ships. Eventually, he was recruited onto an Atlantic pirate ship, and was at last transported to the archipelago. The story of how he liberated several prisoners there including members of his original fleet, is highly disputed: the official account holds that he never wavered in his intent, but other accounts hold that he would have happily remained there as a pirate had some of the British prisoners not recognized him and exposed him. What is not disputed is that he was killed in the escape, and in 1642, 25 years after he set out to discover the pirate island, a crew of men brought a liberated frigate in to Plymouth with tales of Hudson's heroism and the location of the archipelago mapped out. A first British assault on the island failed, and only on a second attempt, with assistance from the Japanese fleet and an overland assault, was the pirate island at last taken in 1649. 

Modern Development

The plan had always been for the Japanese and British to hold joint control over the island - such had been the agreement by which the Shogun participated in the assault - and the geography of the archipelago, with its two major islands - made this an easy division. Each established a colony on its share of the island toward the south end of the inner harbour. For two hundred years, these colonies went from outposts to trading ports to thriving cities of their own right. The mineral richness of the archipelago - great seams of copper and zinc and bauxite ran through it - brought heavy industry to the island. Agriculture proved largely futile, though recent advances in trait selection gives hope that crops suitable to the harsh climate of the island can be established.

After the fall of the Shogunate, the Japanese Emperor, eager to demonstrate his reach, classified the Japanese island as a Prefecture in 1823. This originally prompted concern from the British and led to a period of rocky relations between the two. Both empires were dealing with unrest at home: the Japanese Empire struggling to implement change in the face of rebellions from the Daimyo and Samurai classes; and the British Empire facing resistance to industrialization in the form of Luddite riots. These riots quickly evolved beyond their original mandate to encompass a wide range of grievances with the empire, but industrial works and institutes of science and invention remained important targets. 

In 1841, the two empires, eager to resolve the governance of the archipelago, signed a new treaty, and began construction of a vast bridge between the cities of Hudson and Moromoto - an undertaking referred to as The Grand Handshake for its symbolic importance. 

Because of their relative youth, the cities of Hudson and Moromoto are respected as two of the more modern in the world. Due to the lack of local sources of wood, stone architecture was heavily used in Hudson. In Moromoto, wood was imported from Japan at great expense for construction. Funiculars were constructed to navigate the hilly terrain, drawing power from geothermal converters. Pressurized steam from these geothermal sources is also through an underground network to factories and smelters, forming another income source for the local governments. 

Status as of 1852

A decade later, The Grand Handshake remains uncompleted and relations between the Empires are not always smooth. Both have accused one-another of attempting to exert control through covert and underhanded means. But the islands form one of the busiest ports in the world. For a period, airship travel between London and Hudson was a popular trip amongst the upper class particularly to take advantage of the thermal baths. While a series of disasters and disappearances have led to the end of commercial airship travel, it remains a popular destination for sea voyages. Spanish, Dutch, French, and Berber traders all make use of the ports, and port tariffs and fees account for a significant portion of the local government's revenue. Yet the foreign presences on the island also contribute to fears of covert operations. On the British side, the Bureau of Imperial Interests was established to monitor such activities.

In the face of the unrest around London and given the availability of all manner of material goods, it has become a frequent occurrence for those people of science and invention to relocate to Hudson, though its reputation remains as a culturally backwards and morally dubious place, due to the availability and prevalence of vices from all over the world. 


First Post

Blue Caldera, the first novel from V.S. Velde,  will be released as an e-book October 1st. Stay tuned for more information on how to order it. 

This website is currently in soft-launch status, so if you have found it, consider yourself fortunate! Honestly, I've got no idea how you found it. 


V.S. Velde    ©      2014