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Victorian Quirky and the Book Blurb Conundrum

I participated in a Blurb Pitch Tournament earlier this month and though Steamrolled didn’t win, it was both an instructive and useful (and I was thrilled to make it past the first heat!).

Blurb writing is one of the harder things an author does, sometimes harder than writing a whole novel. Doubt me? Try describing the last novel you read in a couple of paragraphs and in a way that makes readers want to take a look. And you can’t use the words, “It’s about…”
One of the things that surprised me over the course of the tournament was a comment about how my blurb made the reader thing of a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Since I don’t read the strip, I didn’t see it coming though on looking it up on Google, I see I should have.
The comment referred to my transmogrification machine, of course, and yes, it does sound whacky. It’s meant to be whacky. It’s steampunk, which can also be pretty whacky. And to be honest, a lot of real Victorian stuff was pretty whacky. Let’s take a quick stroll through some Victorian whacky and then we’ll see if I’m whacky enough, shall we?

Victorian Inventions; Leonard De Vries

How about this “natural flying machine” that attempted to harness the power of birds to propel men through the air? It seems the eagles would wear jackets. Yeah, would not want the job of assistant during that test flight!

And moving along to the next invention, the Velocipede Shower bath:

Victorian Inventions; Leonard De Vries

It seems the user powered their shower by pedaling during their shower. Right. And continuing our water-based inventions, how about these two inventions: the life preserver and a swimming device:

Victorian Inventions; Leonard De Vries

I think the life preserver is self explanatory (as much as it can be anyway), but take a gander at the swimming device. Though it appears metal, it was to be constructed of rubber for buoyancy. Apparently it had an apparatus that helped propel the user forward. No mention of retreating…

This is just a small sampling of the weird and wonderful ideas flowing from Victorian brains, though to be fair, there were a bunch of truly useful things invented during Victorian times.

So when I approached the subject of a character from Victorian times inventing something, well, I felt the need to push some boundaries (and these are not easy boundaries to even find!).

I commissioned this drawing of my machine.

My transmogrification machine makes its first appearance in Tangled in Time. When I started working on this novella—well, actually it was a short story that grew into a novella, but I digress—I had a character stuck in the 1890’s that needed to meet her perfect match who lived in the present day. Obviously, someone—or both of them—was going to need to time travel if a meeting was to happen.

My Project Universe series is science fiction romance (see my post about squishy science here), so the time travel needed to by machine. Creating a fictional machine is way easier than trying to build a real time machine (though I’m still trying to get my hands on the book on Amazon—without coughing up $354—that shows you how to build one from readily available parts).

Now if the machine had been invented in the present day, I’d have just called it a time machine, but as noted above Victorian scientists had fun with ideas and their names (velocipede?).

At first I just trolled for words that sounded big and a bit whacky and I figured I’d give them a tweak for the story, but then I found this:

tr.v. trans·mog·ri·fiedtrans·mog·ri·fy·ingtrans·mog·ri·fies
To change into a different shape or form, especially one that is fantastic or bizarre

There it was: fantastic or bizarre. My transmogrification machine was born. (In a funny side twist, apparently World of Warcraft uses the word for something or other. LOL!)

I confess I did not know that Calvin and Hobbes used a transmogrifier (wouldn’t it be grand to have a device turns you into whatever you want to be?).
As I “researched” transmogrification definitions, I found this definition elsewhere:
The act of transmogrifying, or the state of being transmogrified; transformation. [Colloq.]
The process or result of changing from one appearance, state, or phase to another.
In my novella, the inventor of the transmogrification machine believes that the change, the transmogrification is in location—and he ends up being right, though not quite in a way he expected or planned. And I threw some other, whacky inventions on board the machine to boost the idea that Professor Twitchet thinks way outside the box, even the Victorian-whacky box.
There’s a Canadian mysteries series called Murdock Mysteries that plays on the Victorian-science-invention-whackiness, and there’s even a hint of steampunk in the storylines. If you haven’t seen it and get the chance, grab it. Very fun. Check out the teaser for the fourth season:

At the end of Tangled in Time, the machine goes missing with potentially dangerous technology on board, which leads into Steamrolled and, eventually takes us to the blurb-reader comment.
It’s always a good thing to know how your blurbs strike people, because we write blurbs in hopes of enticing readers to take a longer look. So, would I do things differently? I’m not sure I could. Case in point would be a reader review on Amazon:
This book is really quite amazing to me. The synoptic blurb is entirely accurate but only begins to touch the lovely mix of weird and romantic with reasonably credible soft SF.  Paul Meyer
This reviewer hits my problem pretty squarely on the head. Steamrolled is a mix of weird and romantic and soft SF. And it’s a very long book (I call them my BABs: big a** books), which makes distilling down to a blurb especially hard.
I read a lot of blurbs trying to learn how to write them better, but its still a leap into the unknown when crafting one.
Basically, the main challenge in blurb writing is finding words that draw the reader in without using words that push the reader away. I appreciate that the reader took time to tell me what words pushed her away from the blurb. My problem, of course, is that all people don’t have the same trigger words.
When I read a blurb, I don’t always know why I move on, though sometimes I do. I read a blurb once that was full of doom and woe, then stated it was a comedy in the last line. (I’m surprised I made it to the last line of the blurb because it was SO depressing!)
I’ve read blurbs loaded with backstory that fail to tell me what the book is about.
I’ve even read blurbs that tell me how much a bunch of people I don’t know loved this book—while still failing to tell me what the book is about.

I’ve read blurbs that make me click “buy,” though these days I grab a sample because I’ve been burned by books that fail to live up to the promise of the great blurbs. But I don’t always know why. And as mentioned, my trigger words are probably different from your trigger words.
I do care when I fail to tell people what my book is about.
But I don’t always know how to fix it when I don’t.
It’s a conundrum. Not unlike these Victorian inventions.
So what do you like-dislike-wish for in book blurbs? Do you know what makes you want to buy a book? What makes you move on? Inquiring authors would love to know.
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