Space “Cowboys”

This weekend I’m at Bubonicon 48. If you’re in Albuquerque, I hope you’ll drop by and visit us at the Hadrosaur Productions table and check out some of the cool panels going on. In the run-up to Bubonicon this past week, Steve Howell and I have been working on Hadrosaur’s anthology Kepler’s Cowboys, which looks at the variety of planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and imagines the brave men and women who will either explore those worlds or will come to our world exploring.

One of the things that I’ve noticed while reading for this anthology is how literally many of the authors have taken the cowboy idea. Several of the submissions feature very literal cowboys in space, who practically wear spurs and big hats. That’s fine and I think a few of those will definitely make it into the anthology, but I do want to point out that’s not the only thing I want to see. In fact, I thought I’d spend a little time today introducing you to a few of my favorite space “cowboys.”

Faye Faye Vallentine is one of the bounty hunters in the anime Cowboy Bebop. Although I enjoy watching Faye’s story, I probably wouldn’t want to know her. In fact, she’s rather arrogant and lazy and she might well be addicted to both gambling and alcohol. However, she does (albeit grudgingly sometimes) show concern for the crew of the spaceship Bebop and the mystery of her past makes her vulnerable. By all appearances she became an ace pilot in about three years. Although much of the mystery of her past is resolved in the series, there are still lots more stories that could be told about her, both from before she joined the crew of the Bebop, and after the end of the series. I love it when it feels like we’re seeing a snippet of someone’s life in a story and don’t feel like that character was born the moment the story was created.

Jewell_Staite Kaylee Frye is the mechanic who keeps the spaceship Serenity flying in the televison series Firefly. The photo is from Phoenix Comicon a couple of years ago when my daughter and I had the chance to meet Jewell Staite, the actress who played Kaylee. Firefly, like Cowboy Bebop, is almost the definitive space cowboy series. In both cases, I could pick almost any character from the series as an example of someone who fits the archetype. I picked Kaylee because I like the fact that she’s a technical genius. Of all the members of Serenity’s crew, she’s probably the worst with a gun, but she’s loyal and has no problem telling it as she sees it.

Nichols My final entry is arguably two for the price of one, because not only would I consider Nyota Uhura a space cowboy, but Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played her in the original Star Trek is arguably a real-life space cowboy! The photo shows Nichols with my daughters at New Mexico Tech in 2008. To many, Uhura did little but “answer the phone” for Captain Kirk, but those people miss the fact that she not only worked communications on the Starship Enterprise but she could take over the science station when Spock wasn’t there and she could navigate the ship. In the animated episode “The Lorelei Signal,” Uhura took command and even rescued Kirk, Spock and McCoy. What’s more, she was a strong African-American woman on television at a time when most African-American women were relegated to roles in comedy or playing slaves in historical dramas. As for Nichelle Nichols, she not only played an explorer, she’s worked as a real-life space advocate and recruiter for NASA. She’s a powerful speaker and visionary and I’m honored that I’ve had the chance to meet her.

As you’ll no doubt have noticed, none of my cowboys are boys, nor do they have anything to do with cows. (Except perhaps for that one episode of Firefly where they hauled cattle, but that’s beside the point!) Although I don’t want fan fiction with these specific characters, I would love to see more stories with strong women like the ones depicted here. I’d also love to see more stories by women. Here’s what you need to know for submissions:

The “Monsters” of Star Trek

I remember the first episode of the original Star Trek I watched. I must have been around five or six years old and Captain Kirk was being chased around the desert by the largest, most ferocious green lizard man I had ever seen. Monsters-Star-Trek When the creature first appeared hissing and growling with its strange, segmented eyes, it would have sent me to hide and watch from behind the couch if our couch hadn’t been backed against a wall. Scared as I was, the episode hooked me and even made me feel a little sorry for the green lizard man when Captain Kirk finally beat him. That likely was not only the beginning of my love of Star Trek but my love of monsters as well.

In 1980, soon after the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a book appeared at my local bookstore called The Monsters of Star Trek. It was a thin book clearly designed to capitalize on the new movie. On the cover was the Gorn—the lizard man from my childhood—so I had to pick it up. The book discussed mind-bending aliens such as the Talosians from the series pilot and Sylvia and Korob from Star Trek’s twisted Halloween episode “Catspaw.” It talked about dangerous animals such as the giant space amoeba and the ape-like Mugato. Browsing through the pages today, it strikes me that the original Star Trek dealt with vampires not just once but twice. In the first season, they met a salt vampire, then in the second, they met a vampire cloud that Kirk obsessively hunted. No doubt this contributed to my own vampire novels.

Of course many of Star Trek’s monsters prove to be misunderstood aliens or aliens who don’t understand humans. The most recent Star Trek movie, Beyond had an alien that definitely fell into this latter category—a swarm-like race led astray by an outside force. (I won’t say more, lest I give spoilers). I’ve always found swarms a bit scary, since they’re a large force with a single purpose, operating like one organism. For me, the best zombie stories work from this basis. One zombie is a little scary. A bunch of zombies working in concert is really scary! You can find my zombie stories in the anthologies Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie and Zombiefied: Hazardous Materials from Sky Warrior Publishing.

As it turns out, zombies aren’t my only look at the scary swarm. In Owl Dance, I introduce Legion, a swarm of microscopic computers who decide to help humans evolve in the second half of the nineteenth century causing near disaster. Legion clearly took some inspiration from Star Trek. In fact, one of the chapters in The Monsters of Star Trek is called “Androids, Computers, and Mad Machines.”

I never really thought of myself as a horror writer or even a horror fan until I started reading Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft as an adult and writing my first vampire stories. That said, it’s interesting to look back and see how scary stories were influencing me even from an early age. Still, it should really be no surprise. I’ve often said my interest in science fiction novels began from paying attention to the writer credits on the original Star Trek. One of those writers was none other than Robert Bloch, a writer mentored by H.P. Lovecraft who would go on to write the novel Psycho. Bloch wrote the Star Trek episodes “Wolf in the Fold” about an evil entity who possessed Scotty and made him a murderer, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” which featured Ted Cassidy from The Addams Family as a decidedly creepy android, and the aforementioned Halloween episode “Catspaw.” If you’re looking for some good creepy TV, you could do worse than hunt up copies of these episodes on video!

Bubonicon 48

Next weekend I’ll be in Albuquerque, New Mexico for Bubonicon 48. The theme is Rockets, Robots, and Rayguns and the guests of honor will be Rachel Caine and David Gerrold. Joe R. Lansdale will be serving as Toastmaster and Lee Moyer is the guest artist. I’ll be serving on three panels over the weekend and participating in the Mass Autographing Session on Saturday. On Sunday, I’ll be the host at the 1pm session of the Author’s Tea and pouring tea during the 2:15 session.

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Friday, August 26

  • 4-5pm – Main Room – Soylent Green: It’s a Cookbook. On this panel we’ll be exploring favorite recipes or foods from SF & Fantasy. Has a science fiction or fantasy story or book inspired you to culinary creativity? Characters need to eat, right? So, what do they eat? What about drinks and alcoholic beverages? How do food choices affect the story’s plot and “flavor”? Can a meal reveal factoids about the culture and society of the characters? Does it really all have to taste like chicken? I’ll be moderating this panel that features Jane Lindskold, Laura J. Mixon, Sage Walker and Corie Weaver.

Saturday, August 27

  • 10-11am – Salon A-D – Where Have All the Publishers Gone? Anybody There? More and more people are self-publishing today. Will all writers eventually go to this format? Will we miss publishers when we don’t have them (if that happens)? What are the advantages and perils of dealing with a publisher or magazine editor? On the panel with me are Rachel Caine, Emily Mah, Gabi Stevens, and Pari Noskin. Robert Vardeman will be moderating.
  • 5:25-6:40pm – Main Room – Mass Autographing Session All the authors attending Bubonicon will be on hand to sign their wares.

Sunday, August 28

  • 10-11am – Main Room – Are Robots Still Scary? Danger Will Robinson! Robots once ran rampant on the pages of pulp magazines and across movie screens. Has familiarity with computers and perhaps Wall-E softened the image of the robot? Do we still fear the day the robots take over? Should we? Can we invent even scarier scenarios now that we’re more familiar with robots? I’ll be moderating this panel consisting of Mario Acevedo, Steven Gould, Jane Lindskold, Laura Mixon, and M.T. Reiten.

Of course, when I’m not on a panel, you’ll likely find me at the Bubonicon Flea Market at the Hadrosaur Productions table. Please come by, say “hi” and check out our newest books. If you’ll be in Albuquerque next weekend, I hope I’ll see you at Bubonicon!

Blade the Anime

Back when my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order came out, science fiction writer Neal Asher wrote a blurb that described it as, “A novel with bite. An amalgam of Blade and The Name of the Rose with a touch of X-Files thrown in for good measure.” Vampires of the Scarlet Order At the time, I was familiar with X-Files and I’d read The Name of the Rose in college, but I actually wasn’t that familiar with Blade, the vampire hunter who cropped up from time to time in Marvel Comics and was portrayed by Wesley Snipes in three movies.

I immediately went out and watched the first movie, and for the most part loved it. I learned that Blade himself is a half-vampire known as a daywalker, fighting to save humans from those vampires who would use them as mere food. In Vampires of the Scarlet Order, the Scarlet Order vampires are brought together to fight human-created vampire super soldiers. It struck me that Blade and the Scarlet Order vampires could come to an accord. Of course, in true comic book fashion, they’d probably have to start their relationship with an epic smackdown fight, but they’d soon come to see they were more similar than different.

Recently, my daughter, home from Tulane University in New Orleans, pointed out that in 2011, four Marvel titles were produced as anime in Japan. One of those was Blade. As a fan of Blade and anime, I had check it out. Blade Anime The series starts off on a promising foot. Blade is in Japan hunting his old nemesis, the vampire Deacon Frost. He teams up with his mentor Noah Van Helsing and Noah’s dog Razor. He also teams up with a Japanese woman who is also a vampire hunter named Makoto. Frost leads our heroes on a chase throughout Southeast Asia. Along the way, we meet such creatures as the Filipino Manananggal which splits at the torso, it’s upper half flying around, dragging it’s entrails behind it. Another disturbing vampire Blade and Makoto must face is the Polong from Malaysia—just add a drop of blood and one tiny, ugly vampiric creature becomes a dozen large, vicious vampiric creatures!

I’m sorry to say that I was a bit disappointed in the ending of the anime Blade. Without delving too much into spoiler territory, nothing much unexpected happens except for one big gut-punch, which actually felt like a cop-out. Despite that, I’m still glad I watched the series. I liked the way the heroes were portrayed and I liked spending time with them. Also, I liked the quest through Southeast Asia.

Watching the anime did encourage me to look up some of the Blade comics I missed and I did find a very nice one-shot comic called Crescent City Blues where Blade battles Deacon Frost, Marie Laveau, vampires and zombies in New Orleans. Here we see Blade teamed up with his former partner and now vampire Hannibal King. So yes, I do think Blade could make peace with the Scarlet Order vampires long enough to work with them!

For those who want to see the book that reminded Neal Asher of Blade, you can find a selection of places to purchase Vampires of the Scarlet Order at my website. The ebook editions are only 99 cents. For those who want a collectible, signed edition, you can get it from the country’s premier shop for vampire merchandise, Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans!

Queries, Marketing, and Talismans

It’s been a little over a year since Tales of the Talisman volume 10, issue 4 hit the streets and I thought I’d take this opportunity to update you on the magazine’s hiatus.

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I took the break, in part, to finish three novels under contract. Where those stand is as follows: The Brazen Shark was published earlier this year. I just turned in the first round of galleys for The Astronomer’s Crypt. I still need to write Owl Riders. My goal is to work on that novel this autumn and winter. Lurking in the background was also the anthology which is now called Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. As I mentioned last weekend, construction of that book is well underway.

I’m also conducting an experiment to see whether it’s a better business decision for Hadrosaur Productions to focus its publishing efforts on anthologies rather than a magazine. That experiment is on-going and you are welcome to participate. If you’re a writer, we’re reading for the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys right now. Find out what we’re looking for at the Guidelines Page. If you’re a reader, be sure to visit my homepage at davidleesummers.com and sign up for my newsletter so you can be among the first to know when the book is released! Just as a brief update for those writers who have submitted, the first short-listed stories are with my co-editor Dr. Steve Howell right now to get his opinion. If you want to check on the status of a submission, please feel free to query.

Which brings me to a brief digression for some writerly advice. Over the last few weeks, I’ve received a few queries about Tales of the Talisman and other projects. When writing a query, keep it short, on point, and avoid presumptuousness, no matter the reason for the query. A specific example comes to mind when someone queried to see if I’d be interested in reading an essay they’d written. About mid-way through the query, they said something to the effect: “This essay is longer than your guidelines specify, but the material is so interesting, I’m sure you’ll want to take a look.” A writer needs confidence, but this is not the best way to express it. Better would be a simple statement of the length. This would allow me to decide if I’m willing to bend the rules. Best would be to indicate willingness to work with the editor if changes are desired. In this case, don’t even indicate that it’s the length that’s at issue. The problem with the query letter was that it was so specific on the point of length that I suspected the author wouldn’t be willing to make any changes. Even if I had been buying essays for Tales of the Talisman, this would have made me less likely to consider the essay.

As far as the hiatus is concerned, I estimate I’m about two-thirds of the way through the time-critical projects that I knew would take a lot of my attention from the magazine. The experiment to see whether anthologies are a better product for Hadrosaur is really just gaining momentum. The upshot is that the hiatus will continue through 2016 as planned and will continue into 2017. About mid-way through 2017, I’ll take another look and see where things stand.

Of course, the one thing that speaks volumes to any editor or publisher considering a project is sales. The thing that would most convince me to bring back Tales of the Talisman sooner than later is a surge in back-issue sales, which actually brings me to another writer tip. For me, one of the hardest things about marketing is tooting my own horn. However, magazines and anthologies offer a way around that difficulty because there are great works by a number of authors. Instead of tweeting “buy my book” you can encourage people to “check out this magazine with an awesome story by Lee Clark Zumpe and an terrific poem by Beth Cato.”

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If you go to the “Issues” link at TalesOfTheTalisman.com you’ll find the four issues of Volume 10. More than that, if you scroll to the bottom, you’ll find links to all the past volumes. For an extra special treat, check out Tales of the Talisman’s predecessor, Hadrosaur Tales. Many of the back issues are available at the HadroStore! These older issues are a real bargain. If you’re a writer who wants Tales of the Talisman back as a market, why not recommend a few of these older magazines to your readers. I encourage readers to browse and find something they’d like to try. Even though the issues have dates, stories and poems don’t spoil. They’re just as fresh as the day they were published.

Rowing the Galley

This last week, I made a first pass reviewing the so-called galley proofs of my novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. I say “so-called” because it’s kind of an old-fashioned term and they’re not really “proofs” yet, since they’re still in a word processing format. This is my publisher’s term. I would call this more a pre-format review. Still, this has allowed me and my editor to make some of those last-minute tweaks, which I hope will make the book just right.

Crypt Galleys

The term “galley proof” goes back to the days of actually setting metal type in trays, which were called galleys. I’m guessing this was because they’re longer than they are wide and have raised edges, so at a glance they resemble flat-bottomed boats. The “galley proof” was the first print done with the type blocks set into the galley so an editor and writer could check that the type was set correctly. Of course, in those days, correcting type wasn’t trivial, so changes were limited to very small scale changes at the galley stage—correcting spelling or simple punctuation—nothing that would significantly affect the flow of the document because otherwise, you’d have to reset all the type on every page after the correction.

As you can see in the photo above, the digital world allows more significant changes at this stage. Things highlighted blue are some of my editor’s most recent changes, while I’m highlighting my changes in yellow.

To add ambience to this week’s activities, I was at work for a few days. This is monsoon season in Southern Arizona, which means storm clouds hug the mountaintop where the observatory I work at is located, preventing us from getting much science done as shown in the photo below.

Mountain Storm

Because of the weather conditions, I was able to get some work done on the galleys while at the observatory. As it turns out, much of the action of The Astronomer’s Crypt is set during a stormy night at an observatory. To make matters worse, my observer at the 4-meter was remote, meaning she wasn’t in the building. I only communicated with her via a Skype connection. So, I was all alone in a large building on a stormy night.

If that weren’t bad enough, there’s been quite a bit of construction going on in the building, so doors are propped open that aren’t normally and there are stacks of supplies and equipment where you wouldn’t normally find them. Sometimes I’d go down the elevator and I’d swear I’d see feet through the bottom of the elevator door as I passed a level, even though I knew I was alone in the building. I’d step out of the elevator and swear I saw a person standing beside me, only to find it was a stack of insulation. It perhaps kept me just a little too much in the spirit of my horror novel!

This week, I’m giving the book one more pass. I’m actually aiming to read a little more quickly to make sure there aren’t any large-scale continuity problems and to look for a couple of things that are nagging me even after I finished the book. After all, I want to make sure this version is just right when I send it back to my editor. Fortunately, I’m at home this week, so all the scares should come from the page alone, and not from the environment where I’m doing the work!

Accelerating to Maximum Velocity

A little over a year ago, I posted about Tales of the Talisman magazine going on hiatus. At the end of the post, I made a cryptic reference to discussions with Hugo-nominated editor Jennifer Brozek at LepreCon 41 in Phoenix about about a possible book project. Go Full Throttle poster 1 Also at LepreCon was New York Times Bestselling Star Trek author Dayton Ward. As it turns out, the three of us have something in common. We all edited anthologies in the Full-Throttle Space Tales Series published by Flying Pen Press.

This series included six volumes called Space Pirates, Space Sirens, Space Grunts, Space Horrors, Space Tramps, and Space Battles. Unfortunately, Flying Pen Press decided it no longer wanted to devote its energies to fiction and released the rights to the anthologies back to the editors. The plan we hatched at LepreCon was to assemble a “Best of” anthology that included the best stories from each of the books. The thought was we would run a Kickstarter and my company, Hadrosaur Productions, would publish the book. The beautiful artwork illustrating this post is based on a poster idea for the fundraiser by our original cover artist, Laura Givens.

Because each book in the series had a different editor, our plan was to pass the book we edited to the next person in line and they would vote on their favorite stories. This way, everything in the “best of” antho would be vetted by two professional editors. Our only rule was that if we wrote a story in an anthology we were reading, we couldn’t vote for ourselves.

Fast forward to October, when I was at MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado. I ran the idea by Carol Hightshoe, who edited Space Sirens and she was all for it. The surprise at that convention was when David Boop and Peter J. Wacks approached me with an idea. David was instrumental in getting the original series off the ground and had stories in several of the books. Peter was working with Kevin J. Anderson at WordFire Press. Their idea: the editors of the Full-Throttle Space Tales Books should assemble a “Best of” anthology and submit it to WordFire!

Cutting to the chase, we did assemble the anthology and submitted it. WordFire has graciously accepted it. All of the authors selected have been notified and are on board. The editors are now in the process of fine-tuning the anthology and I hope to get the final product to WordFire soon.

The anthology will be called Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. In it, you will find eighteen stories by such folks as C.J. Henderson, Irene Radford, Alan L. Lickiss, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jean Johnson, Mike Resnick and Brad R. Torgersen. The collection is edited by Carol Hightshoe, Dayton Ward, Jennifer Brozek, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and yours truly. I’ll keep everyone posted about the book as we get closer to release time. I hope you’re as excited as I am to go full-throttle again and accelerate to maximum velocity!