I was riding my bike when I came up with the concept for The Velocipede Races. I was breathing hard and really expanding my ribcage, so I thought about corsets and how restrictive they must have been for women of the past, how much just that single garment probably limited their lives and their physicality. Then I thought about how access to the bicycle allowed women in the late-nineteenth century a new mode of transportation that widened their world and helped them quite literally get out of the house and into more comfortable clothes. Then I thought about how exciting keirin track racing is, and how fun it would be to have a steampunk book that used a gladiator-style keirin race as a centerpiece. (Ok, that was the big associative leap, I see it now.) I originally planned to have those keirin races be life or death matters in the book, and bloody, but the nature of the story didn’t lend itself to that once I actually started to write it. Which means someone out there should still write that gladiator-bike-racing book…
Most of my big plot points and ideas for TVR came to me during my commute rides. I’d arrive at work and madly jot down these “plot downloads” onto post-its or index cards so I wouldn’t forget them. Then on my writing days, I’d go through the post-its and cards and work the new material into the book.
TVR was a book that came pretty naturally for me, partly because its central themes—women, physicality, independence—are topics I think about often. Everyday in my work as a Pilates instructor I can see how women are changed by more fully inhabiting their bodies and becoming physically stronger. This is true for men as well, but women seem to have a slightly different relationship to their bodies than men, one tangled by deep, old cultural expectations and by the value so often placed on women’s appearance over other attributes. Learning how to value function over form is a process that comes up often in my Pilates work. I’m also quite amazed by the almost direct correlation between building a stronger center (developing the musculature of the trunk, back, abdomen, and pelvic floor) and building a stronger sense of self and competence. I wanted to explore that relationship in TVR within the character Emmeline.
Emmeline is a rebel–as most of my lead characters are in varying amounts. I’m fascinated by how the external world of setting intersects with the internal world of character. So often in real life it feels as if we are almost entirely determined by our circumstances—we are whatever we are born into—and that shapes everything from our opportunities to our beliefs to our aspirations. It can feel unimaginable to consider something beyond that—some internal essence out of time and place. I like to give my characters that internal essence. I don’t even know what to call it. Confidence? An iconoclastic bent? A rebellious nature? It has to do with having an awareness of being the director of one’s own life, of choosing one’s path and swimming against the current to pursue it. How do people come into that awareness? I know that one way is through physicality–and these are my characters who are the yogis, the athletes, the warriors.
So one of the huge questions I thought about while riding–and writing–The Velocipede Races was how a social creature, a human being, can resolve the friction between external expectation and internal desire by committing to and unleashing her physical potential.
If this subject matter seems interesting, you can still get your copy of the new version of The Velocipede Races from Elly Blue/Microcosm Publishing. The Kickstarter is going on right now, and there are many fun rewards you can receive in exchange for your support.
Thanks for reading! Next Monday I’ll be posting an excerpt from the book to conclude my series of blog posts about The Velocipede Races.