Walks Through the Cemetery – Part 2

David Lee Summers:

Continuing my series on how walking through the local cemetery has inspired some of my writing.

Originally posted on The Scarlet Order:

Last week, I discussed how walks through the cemetery provide historical inspiration. In addition, walking helps me clear my head and focus better on my writing. Walking through the cemetery is really just an easy and practical choice because it’s one of the nicest spaces in my neighborhood to go for a stroll without worrying about traffic. Of course, it’s also interesting to discover someone in the cemetery who is in the history books and has been immortalized in many books and films.


The photo shows the grave site of Pat Garrett and his wife Apolinaria. Pat Garrett is most famous as the man who shot Billy the Kid in 1881. He also investigated the disappearance of attorney and newspaperman Albert Jennings Fountain, who I’ll discuss in a later post of this series. Toward the end of his life, Garrett was appointed a customs collector in El Paso, Texas by…

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This has been a busy week at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I’ve been helping with infrared images of supernovae, taking spectra of galaxies to understand their composition, and taking images of some of the earliest known galaxy clusters. In the meantime, my third steampunk novel is due with Sky Warrior Publishing in about six weeks. So I’ve been reviewing the manuscript so far and making edits here and there as I have time. Here you see me on a typical night, operating the telescope.

Operating Telescope

When moving a telescope from one target to another, there are several jobs that must be accomplished quickly. You must make sure you’re moving the telescope to a position it can reach mechanically. You have to make sure that an off-axis camera is set up to keep the telescope on target. You have to make sure the telescope is in good focus. You must check to make sure the dome and the mirror support systems are working properly. You have to pay attention to see if the visiting scientists are having problems or questions. When I learned how to operate the telescope, the woman who trained me used to hover behind me and say, “Multitask! Multitask!”

Research suggests humans are actually pretty poor at multitasking. Now, if you read the article I linked, they define multitasking as focusing on several things at one time. Instead of being able to multitask well, they say that humans are good at focusing on discrete tasks and shifting their focus from one thing to another very quickly. It’s a subtle but real distinction.

Because I work long hours at the telescope—as long as 16 hours a night in the middle of winter—I’m often asked if I write while I work. In fact, I find it difficult to compose stories while I’m at work because so many things vie for my attention and I have to shift attention quickly. To compose a story or a chapter, I need to be at home away from too many distractions. I’m definitely not the kind of person who can sit in a coffee shop and write.

What I can do at the telescope (when the programs allow it) is read and edit. I’m using something more like the analytical parts of my brain than when I’m composing new material. I can shift my focus quickly from editing tasks to a job at the telescope if I need to.

In order to be a successful writer, you need several related skills. You need to be able to compose a story. You need to be able to evaluate and edit what you’ve written. You need to read good works by others critically. This is all before the economic reality of putting on your marketing hat and telling others about your work.

Write everyday is great advice and I’d argue that a true writer can’t help but follow it. That said, writing is composed of several discrete tasks and I don’t necessarily do every task every day. If you find composing something new everyday is difficult, as I do, why not identify the discrete parts of your writing job and do them when you can? Carry your manuscript with you. As you see in the photo above, I have my laptop with me at work. Pull out a work in progress and go back over it. If nothing else, carry a book with you and read for a while. Instead of “write everyday,” I like to say “do the job of a writer everyday.” Multitask! Multitask!

For those who may have missed it, I was featured author this past week at the Lachesis Publishing blog. Here are the posts:

Walks Through the Cemetery – Part 1

David Lee Summers:

This post over at the Scarlet Order blog directly relates to my post about visiting the high school. I mentioned visiting the cemetery for inspiration, which definitely got attention.

Also, I’m featured over at Lachesis Publishing’s Blog all this week. Be sure to follow the posts at: http://lachesispublishing.com/?page_id=169

Originally posted on The Scarlet Order:

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a local high school class here in Las Cruces about the steampunk genre and my writing process. One of the things I mentioned is that I like to take walks through the cemetery. Now this may seem a little morbid, but I find one effect is that it puts me in touch with local history. I see gravestones and I ask who these people were and what they did. One tombstone that regularly catches my eye belongs to Mr. Charlie Miller.

Charlie Miller Tombstone

In this case, I haven’t researched Mr. Miller, but the tombstone goes to show how iconic Pancho Villa is in the Southwestern United States. His raid on Columbus, New Mexico led to America’s first incursion on another country in which we used air power.

When Robert E. Vardeman asked if I would be interested in contributing to his “Empires of…

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Steampunk Goes To High School

This past week, one of the local high school teachers invited me to speak to her creative writing class about steampunk. I thought I would share my outline of the presentation in case it was helpful, either for the particular case of presenting information about steampunk or any other genre writing.

I started out by finding out what the students knew about steampunk. This particular class didn’t know much, just had some idea that it had to do with the past, but one student piped up that he was a fan of cyberpunk. So, this led me into a discussion of steampunk’s roots in the 1980s and how K.W. Jeter coined the term in a letter to Locus magazine. This seemed to hook the class. I also pointed out that steampunk isn’t just a genre of writing, but it’s expanded into art, music, and even lifestyles. I passed around a copy of Robert Brown’s Lyrics of Abney Park which includes many wonderful illustrations and photos as a source of inspiration.


One of the difficulties defining steampunk is that you can find whole web pages devoted to the subject. I settled on a definition that basically goes like this: Steampunk is a story set in a world that looks like the 1800s but features technology or magic that doesn’t seem to belong based on what we know about history. I pointed out that this allows for stories that are actually set in the 1800s and also those that might be set in the future after some kind of apocalypse wiped out society. I also noted that although it often falls under different names, people also write these kinds of alternate histories about other time periods as well.

I showed off my books and mentioned that my interest was in looking at history of the region and imagining what would have happened if technology had been given a push in some areas and developed a little faster than the history we know.

Perhaps my greatest challenge in this discussion was that most of these kids didn’t seem very excited by history or historical topics. Despite that, they seemed to perk up when I challenged some of their notions. For example, I asked, “what was the favored weapon of samurai warriors in the 1800s?” Several answered, “swords.” I then pointed out that swords aren’t very effective against armor. Although samurai did train extensively with swords, many realized guns were more effective in combat. We also talked about what Las Cruces was like in 1881 and what kids their age would have been doing and what kinds of things they would want if they went back to that time.

From there, I moved on to a discussion of my process as a writer and how I’m inspired by things around me. I folded in the earlier historical discussion by pointing out that I get curious about those places I drive by in my commute, such as the Council Rocks in Arizona where Apaches used to camp or the turnoff for Tombstone, Arizona. I talked about how I like to visualize things, then write them down. We also talked about some of the mechanics of submitting writing to magazines and anthologies.

I wrapped up the session by giving them a writing prompt. I had the students imagine they were teenagers in 1881 Las Cruces. Billy the Kid is in town. What happened when the airship arrived?

There was just enough time at the end of the class for a couple of students to share their stories. One told about troopers descending and preparing to invade, though we didn’t hear yet what they were after. Another student imagined that the airship belonged to Pat Garrett, who was seeking Billy the Kid. Now that last story is one I’d like to see finished for sure!

Women Samurai

This weekend, I’m at the ConDor Science Fiction convention in San Diego, California. Once I get home, I’ll be entering the home stretch on my novel The Brazen Shark, which is the third of my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels. One of the characters I’ve introduced in this novel is Imagawa Masako, a woman samurai who resists the Japanese imperial restoration.

Although somewhat rare, there were several notable women samurai. Typically referred to as “onna-bugeisha,” women warriors came from the bushi class, same as samurai. If a woman showed interest and ability as a warrior, she would be trained just as a man. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that more women were encouraged to become warriors in times of war than in peacetime.

Tomoe Gozen

One notable samurai was Tomoe Gozen who would have lived between about 1157 and 1247. In the “Tale of the Heike” it was written, “Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.”

There’s some question whether Tomoe was a real historical figure or not. However, many other characters from the “Tales of the Heiki” are known to have existed. What’s more, there are other documented women who became samurai such as Lady Hangaku and Hōjō Masako, who lent her given name to my samurai character.

Nakano Takeko

Once Japan became unified under the Tokagawa regime, fewer women were encouraged to become samurai, but there still are notable examples even as late as the nineteenth century. One example is Nakano Takebo. She fought in the Boshin War, which was part of the samurai struggle against the Meiji Restoration. She specialized in the naginata, the Japanese version of the polearm, and led a corps of onna-bugeisha. She died during a charge against Imperial Japanese forces. Today during the Aiza Autumn festival, girls wear hakama—the pants worn over kimonos—and white headbands in her honor.

While you’re waiting for The Brazen Shark, be sure to read Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves to get caught up on the story so far!

ConDor 22 Schedule

Here’s my schedule for ConDor 22! Get more information about the convention at: condorcon.org

Friday, March 13

1pm – Room: Galleria II – Reading I am always happy to take requests for readings. If there are no requests for a specific story or novel, I’ll read from my latest novel Lightning Wolves. If you pick a pirate story, we’ll sing pirate shanties!

3pm – Room: Windsor Rose – When Does a Planet Become a Place In the 19th century, Percival Lowell’s “discovery” of canals helped to transform Mars from an abstract idea to a real place in popular imagination. Today, the Kepler Space Telescope has discovered hundreds of planets, some with the potential for life. At what point will those planets move from the abstract idea to actual places we dream of visiting? On the panel with me are Lyn Maudlin and William Stoddard.

Saturday, March 14

10:30am – Room: Le Chanticleer – Stars, Planets, and Time Part of the Hogwarts Continuing Education Series of classes. An introduction to the tools, method, and magic of astronomy. You will learn how astronomers turn time, divine the composition of distant objects, and whether dark matter and dark energy constitute a threat to the wizarding world.

11:00am – Room: Le Chanticleer – How to Make a Steampunk Telescope Watch and learn how to build an amazing Newtonian telescope, steampunk style. Author and astronomer, David Lee Summers, will build his working telescope right before your very eyes. You’ll also learn how and where to acquire the parts to build your own telescope at home.

Hope to see all my San Diego friends at ConDor!

ConDor 22

This weekend, I’m at Wild Wild West Con in Tucson, Arizona. Afterwards, I’ll spend three whirlwind days at work, then I’ll be off to San Diego for ConDor 22! The guest of honor is S.M. Stirling and other participants include Vernor Vinge, John W. Oliver, and Drake and McTrowell. The convention will be held at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego from Friday, March 13 through Sunday, March 15. Visit the Condor Website for more information.

As of this writing, I haven’t seen the schedule yet. I know I’ll be presenting my telescope building workshop and I’ll be presenting a fun Harry Potter-themed astronomy class. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll drop by and say “hello!”


In other news, Tales of the Talisman volume 10, issue 3 is getting ready to ship. Copies are already available at Amazon.com. I’ll ship copies to contributors and subscribers as soon as they arrive in my office and I’m back from my travels. The issue features stories by Jude-Marie Green, Frank Tavares, Lou Antonelli, J Alan Erwine, and more. The stories include a fantasy tale of post-Katrina New Orleans, a dark, magical tale of a starship captain ordered to quell an uprising, and a story of learning to fly. As always, the issue includes a great array of poetry and artwork.

Finally, a brief update about my novel-in-progress. I’ve just crossed the 70,000-word line. Plot threads are coming together in my tale of samurai, airships, and warfare. I’m hoping to have a draft finished by the end of the month. Then the work of revision begins!