Treat Yourself to a Scary Read

This week, my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt is Lachesis Publishing’s Book of the Week.

In my novel, astronomers, ghosts, drug dealers, and a monster from the beginning of time collide at a remote observatory during a violent thunderstorm. You might ask why a professional astronomer who operates telescopes would set a horror novel at an observatory. There are actually several reasons I chose to present this as a venue for a scary tale.

First, one of the scariest movies from my teen years was Ridley Scott’s movie Alien. Part of the reason the movie was so effective was that I was a big Star Trek and Star Wars fan growing up. Alien allowed haunted house horror to encroach on the “safe place” of science fictional optimism and action. Sure, Star Trek and Star Wars had their scary moments, but those moments were soon relieved by the heroes escaping the scary situation, a logical scientific explanation, or even humor. In Alien, the scary moments never let up. What’s more, the space ship was dark, dank, and full of shadows, not like the bright and colorful ships of those other science fictional franchises. For me, having a monster on the loose in an astronomical observatory is very much a call back to Alien.

Setting a horror story at an observatory is also something of an homage to one of the masters of twentieth century horror, H.P. Lovecraft. He was fascinated by astronomy and actually wrote scientific articles. Of course, he imagined ancient creatures from the depths of space to be among his horrors that tormented those people who dared to look in dark places.

Arguably one of the most important reasons for setting a horror story at an observatory relates to the adage, “write what you know.” I’ve worked at observatories for twenty-two of the last thirty years. Ironically, I feel comfortable and even safe working at observatories. However, some of the scariest stories happen in places where we don’t expect horrific things to occur. It’s one of the reasons Ray Bradbury could scare people with a story set at a fun carnival, and why Stephen King could scare us so effectively with a resort hotel in the Rockies. If you watch science shows, you’ve undoubtedly seen an astronomer speaking about the mysteries of the universe. You don’t expect something horrible in that situation.

And yet, it’s never far from the back of my mind that horrific things can happen. We’re at a remote site with wild animals. Observatories have big industrial equipment that come with their own safety issues. We work in the dark, in big, windowless buildings. When the power goes out, it can be really and truly dark. I’ve made the mistake of going into rooms without a flashlight and having doors close behind me and becoming quickly disoriented. There are access hatches that open into big, open areas. Those of us who work at observatories have to be ever vigilant to make sure accidents don’t happen.

I’ve also spoken at some length about how some observatories have literal crypts in or near their structures. James Lick is buried in the pier of the 36-inch telescope and Percival Lowell is interred in a mausoleum just outside the 24-inch telescope where he observed the features he thought were Martian canals.

In The Astronomer’s Crypt, I dared to take a place I loved and then scared myself by imagining the worst possible things happening. This Halloween, I dare you to come along with me and peer into the dark places behind the scenes at an observatory.

Lachesis Publishing has sweetened the deal making this a great Halloween treat. They’ve reduced the ebook from $4.99 to 99 cents for the rest of October at:

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Revising the Past and the Future

Today, I’m signing books at COAS Bookstore at 317 North Main Street in Las Cruces, New Mexico from 10am until noon. I’ll have copies of all my recent releases including The Astronomer’s Crypt, Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales, and Kepler’s Cowboys. If you’re in the neighborhood, hope you’ll drop by for a good book. Don’t forget, the holidays are right around the corner and signed books make terrific gifts! The Las Cruces Farmer’s and Craft Market takes place right outside.

This week got off to a good start when my college roommate Ken Silsbee and his wife Melissa came to visit my family for an evening in Mesilla. We went to La Posta, which is something of a landmark in the area. The building was erected in the 1840s and started service as headquarters for a freight and passenger line. After the Civil War, it became a stop on the Butterfield Stage Line and during the 1870s and 1880s, it became the Corn Exchange Hotel, which is briefly mentioned in the first novel of my Clockwork Legion series, Owl Dance. Across the street is the building that housed the courthouse where Billy the Kid was tried. It was good to see Ken again. He’s currently serving as the Alumni Association President for our alma mater, New Mexico Tech, in Socorro, New Mexico.

Most of this week has been devoted to revising book four of the Clockwork Legion series, Owl Riders. I have beta reader notes which are helping to point out some of the book’s remaining rough edges. I’m a fan of good food and I like sharing that in my books, but one of my beta readers pointed out that mealtime comes just a few times too often in the novel. I’m working to cut that back. After all, we don’t want the characters to put on too much weight! Of course, I also love to give my books a sense of historical veracity, but I’ve come to realize that my book is populated with more historical characters than I absolutely need. At least a couple of them are moving off stage to give the stars of the book a little more opportunity to shine. I’m making good progress on the revisions and at this point, I plan to have the book turned into my publisher in the first week of November.

Even with revisions on the novel keeping me busy, I did make time to revise another tale for my collection of space pirate short stories, Firebrandt’s Legacy. This story was “Hot Pursuit” which first appeared in the collection A Kepler’s Dozen. It’s been fun revisiting these stories, putting them in order, and making sure the stories are consistent with each other. It’s also been fun to add in bits and pieces that show more of the characters’ growth with time. As this project goes on, I’ll be adding some new stories to the mix to make it a more complete story arc. As a reminder, you can read the first story at my Patreon site: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. If you support me there, you can see each additional story as its revised or written. Of course, supporting me there also helps to support all my writing endeavors including this blog.

That Punk, Popeye

About a week and a half ago, I learned that the soundtrack album from the 1980 movie Popeye had been re-released with tracks not included on the original album. I loved this movie when it came out and I bought the soundtrack on vinyl. The movie was one of the few bright spots I remember in the weeks immediately following my father’s death. Listening to the songs over again sent me to my DVD of the movie for a rewatch. As always, I enjoyed this lighthearted Robert Altman romp with its funky island setting and a set crowded with extras who feel like fully realized characters. What struck me this time around were how many steampunk sensibilities appeared in the film.

I’m sure some of the steampunk “feel” of the film is the result of screenwriter Jules Feiffer’s attempt to write a story heavily inspired by E.C. Segar’s original comic strip, Thimble Theatre. The strip, born soon after World War I and very much in the steam era, will celebrate its centennial in 2019. Popeye was introduced as a supporting character ten years after the strip began and soon supplanted most of the regular cast. At the time Popeye was introduced, the strip generally was about the characters going on some zany quest or another in search of riches or to help someone. In the movie, Popeye arrives on a quest to find his lost father—a powerful theme for me at the time. Quests are certainly the narrative basis of a lot of steampunk, though they are by no means exclusive to steampunk.

The first thing that struck me about the film is how much of it is concerned with manners and etiquette. Olive Oyl’s father, Cole, is always asking for an apology for some perceived slight. There’s an early dinner scene where Popeye struggles to be polite among a cacophony of voices and flailing arms and limbs, only to be left with nothing to eat for his trouble. Of course Popeye has always been a defender of the weak and those unable to protect themselves. It’s even in his theme song: “Keep good behavior, that’s your one life saver with Popeye the Sailor Man!”

As I mentioned at the outset, the movie is set in a funky village outside of time. The village, built for the movie, reminds me of Nantucket, except that it’s clinging to rocks of Malta. There are no vehicles except for the rotting ships in the harbor and the tax man’s bicycle. The whole thing feels like it’s set at the time of the original comic, late in the steam era. In fact, there’s even kind of a builder sensibility evident in Poopdeck Pappy’s boat at the end. The whole thing looks like a steamboat cobbled together from odds and ends in someone’s garage. It’s not beautiful, but it might just get a few admiring nods at a seaside steampunk convention because it floats and it works!

The circus is important to many in the steampunk community. After all, it was an important nineteenth century entertainment. Many of the steampunk events I’ve attended have a real love of circus performers. Abney Park even released an album called The Circus at the End of the World. One of the things that’s striking about Popeye is all the circus performers working as extras, showing off their talents in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The whole movie has a very steampunk-feeling circus atmosphere.

I’d be hard pressed to call Popeye a steampunk film, but Robin Williams’ Popeye is a misfit with a good heart who could easily walk into many steampunk stories I know and feel surprisingly right at home. Some steampunk characters would probably look askance at him in his dingy sailor suit and corncob pipe, but he’d scowl and just tell them, “I yam what I yam!”

Las Cruces Book Signings

For my friends here in Las Cruces, I hope you’ll join me today for my signing and informal discussion of “Fountains of Blood” from the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone at the NMSU Campus Bookstore from 1:00-3:00pm. I’ll also have copies of Owl Dance and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order if you want to know more about the characters who appear in the story.

If you can’t make that, or you’re looking for books I didn’t have available at the NMSU signing, I’ll be at COAS Bookstore downtown next Saturday, October 21 during the Farmer’s Market from 10am until noon. Noon isn’t a hard cut off, I’m happy to stay as long as there’s a demand, but don’t delay!

The picture above is the poster I made for the signing. It features a sneak peek at the trailer we did for The Astronomer’s Crypt. Claire is looking out the control room door, considering whether or not to investigate the strange noises she’s heard. If things stay on schedule, we’ll be debuting the trailer at TusCon in Tucson, Arizona next month.

As the poster implies, the primary focus of the signing will be on The Astronomer’s Crypt since it’s such a great book for getting into the Halloween spirit. I’ll also have my other books along with me, including Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. As always, if there’s a book you’re looking for and you’ll be there, drop me a note in the comments and I’ll make every effort to have it available.

Legends of the Dragon Cowboys

I’m proud to announce the release of the newest book from Hadrosaur Productions. It’s a book that takes the weird western and adds a touch of steampunk called Legends of the Dragon Cowboys. The book contains the novellas “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung” by David B. Riley and “Chin Song Ping and the Long, Long Night” by Laura Givens. If those names sound familiar, there’s good reason. David is the editor of Science Fiction Trails Magazine and a fine author of weird westerns whose work has appeared in both Hadrosaur Tales and Tales of the Talisman. Laura Givens has designed most of my covers over the years, but is also a great writer as well. In fact one chapter of her story made its debut in Tales of the Talisman David and Laura’s heroes ride boldly out of the Far East to find their way in a mythic land of danger, romance, and adventure.

In “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung” by David B. Riley, a wandering businessman encounters a Mayan god, crooked enterprises and Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, when all he really wants is to open a gun store. Ling Fung is not any ordinary Chinese entrepreneur—he’s highly skilled in Kung Fu and he can shoot good, too. While his heart is set on business, providence seems to have other plans for him.

Laura Givens brings wily acrobat Chin Song Ping to the Wild West in search of adventure and fortune. He finds little fortune, but plenty of adventure. Chin Song Ping is a scoundrel, a gambler and a trouble magnet. His heart of gold lands him in schemes to outwit would-be gods, cannibal ghosts, insane robots, Voodoo despots and the ultimate evil—bureaucrats. But he is a romantic, and the love of his life is the true treasure he seeks. The odds are always against him but if he survives he will become the Western legend he always was in his own mind.

The Wild West just got a lot wilder!

You can find the print edition of Legends of the Dragon Cowboys at Amazon.com and Hadrosaur.com

You can find the ebook edition at Amazon.com and Smashwords.com.

Colonel Albert Fountain Meets Carmilla

In the cemetery behind my house is a gravestone with no body underneath. I see it almost every day I’m home when I take my daily walk through the neighborhood. Albert J. Fountain was the fourteenth lieutenant governor of Texas, serving during the reconstruction years of 1871-1873. After he finished his term, he moved to Mesilla, New Mexico. He’s probably most famous as Billy the Kid’s defense attorney in 1881. His interest in the infamous Lincoln County War and other cattle disputes continued. In 1896, Fountain was on his way home from collecting affidavits about people involved with cattle rustling. He was traveling with his eight-year-old son Henry. Fountain was 57. The two disappeared in White Sands. All that was found was a buckboard and a pool of blood.

It’s long been suspected that Fountain and his son fell prey to those men he investigated. I once read that Fountain’s wife encouraged him to take his young son, feeling that no one would be monstrous enough to harm a small child. Something about that always felt just a little naive given the reputations of cattle rustlers. I also thought it seemed naive of Fountain to agree. He was certainly not inexperienced and had lived through difficult times.

When David Boop asked me to submit a story for the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, my thoughts went immediately to the Albert Fountain disappearance. What fantastical explanations could I come up with for the event? What if Fountain took precautions to assure he would be safe? I also thought about Albert Fountain as an older father. In the 1800s, being almost 50 years older than his son, did he worry about the possibilities of watching his son grow up? Those questions along with the pool of blood led me to thoughts of vampires.

As it turns out, the novel Dracula would not be published until a year after Fountain disappeared. That’s when it occurred to me that the novella “Carmilla” by Sheridan Le Fanu had been published in 1871, and collected into the book In a Glass Darkly with other stories in 1872. It’s not clear how widely the book was distributed in America, but it’s certainly possible it was known.

I used “Carmilla” as a way to introduce my protagonists to the concept of the vampire while they’re attempting to solve the disappearance. One of the things that appeals to me about Carmilla is the way the vampire is almost phantom like, stalking her victim in dreams. The novella also raises interesting possibilities about child vampires long before Claudia appeared in Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire.

So, how exactly do vampires relate to the disappearance of Albert and Henry Fountain? I’ve dropped several big hints in the description above, but the best way to know is to pick up a copy of Straight Outta Tombstone to find out.

Also, one week from today on October 14, I’ll be at the New Mexico State University Bookstore at 1400 East University in Las Cruces from 1:00-3:00pm for an informal discussion of “Fountains of Blood” and a book signing for Straight Outta Tombstone. I’ll also have copies of Owl Dance and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order along with me, if you want more adventures from the characters in my story. I hope I’ll see lots of my Las Cruces friends at NMSU next week!

Firebrandt’s Legacy at Patreon

I’m releasing chapter two of Firebrandt’s Legacy for patrons to read at my Patreon page today. Firebrandt’s Legacy is a book that collects my short stories about space pirate Ellison Firebrandt and his crew in one volume. These short stories have been released in several anthologies over the years published by several different publishers. I suspect it’s unlikely anyone besides me and my wife have read them all! Even if I’m wrong about that, I do plan to add some new short stories to the mix. What’s more, each of the short stories is being completely re-edited for this volume and I’m also doing “Behind the Scenes” posts for each story to give patrons a glimpse into the history and my inspirations for each story.

Ellison Firebrandt fights the good fight for Earth. Under a letter of marque, he raids the ships of Earth’s opponents, slowing down their progress and ability to compete with the home system. On the planet Epsilon Indi 2, he rescues a woman named Suki Mori from a drug lord, only to find she isn’t so happy about living a pirate’s life. However, when the captain finds a new engine that will make him the most successful pirate of all, Suki is the only one who can make it work. Now Firebrandt must find a way to keep his crew fed and his ship supplied while relying on a woman who barely trusts him and while every government in the galaxy hunts him to get the engine back!

I have unlocked the first story at my Patreon page. Without paying anything, you can check out Laura Givens’ beautiful cover in full resolution and read the first story to decide if you want to support this project. Once this project is complete, I plan to continue with the other three books in the Space Pirates’ Legacy series, so you’ll find good stuff there for a while.

It would be fair to ask why you should support this effort on Patreon. After all, I have a good job operating telescopes and I make income from my other books. Can’t I just assemble this book and sell it like the others? My goal here is two-fold. First of all, this isn’t the only project I’m working on. I’m also finishing off edits on my steampunk novel Owl Riders and I need to start work on my second Wilderness of the Dead novel. Knowing that I have patrons who expect to see at least one story from me each month is a great motivator for me to actually make sure I keep this project moving forward while I work on those other projects. What’s more, my “day” job’s salary is paid through government agencies whose budgets are set by congress each year. People in my position can and have been laid off with minimal notice in times of budget shortfalls. While my job is quite compatible with my writing and I have little desire to leave, I never know when I might find myself unemployed. While I have no complaints about my salary, it’s hardly extravagant. Money from my books and sources such as Patreon are necessary for me to afford travel to conventions and give presentations about writing and even astronomy.

Also, getting money through Patreon allows me to pay other artists, such as Laura Givens, who did the wonderful cover for Firebrandt’s Legacy. I’m also hoping to put together a full-cast audiobook of Firebrandt’s Legacy and support on Patreon helps me pay actors a fair wage to do that. In other words, lots of fun things can happen through your support. I’m honored by those who’ve already decided to support me and I hope others will join them.

Click the button below to visit my page, read the first chapter, see the high resolution cover and decide if you’re brave enough to join the crew of the Legacy on its voyage of adventure.