LepreCon 44

Next weekend, I’ll be on panels at LepreCon 44, which is being held at the Doubletree Metrocenter Mall in Phoenix, Arizona from June 22-24. LepreCon is a small fan-run general fantasy & science fiction convention. The guests of honor include Chesley-Award-Winning Artist, Lubov, novelist, playwright, and graphic novelist, Maxwell Alexander Drake, and Jon Santaana Proudstar who created the first all Native American comic. Another guest is James C. Glass, a retired physics and astronomy professor who won the Writers of the Future Contest in 1991. LepreCon is a smaller science fiction and fantasy convention, but I’ve often enjoyed these types of events because they provide an opportunity to interact with the guests and the fans attending the convention.

My schedule at the convention is as follows.

Saturday, June 23

    Reading – 1-2pm – Consuite. I’ll present a reading from my newest book, Owl Riders and talk about other projects. I’ll also be available to autograph books.

    Is Everyone White? How Do We Approach Skin Color in Fiction? – 7-8pm – Executive Board Room. Do we assume skin tone when we read? How should we describe skin tone when we write? Is it okay not to? On the panel with me are Ernest Hogan, Emily Devenport, and Maxwell Alexander Drake.

Sunday, June 24

    Habitable Extra-Solar Planets: A Reality Check – 9-10am – Latana Room. Being in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water can exist isn’t enough. What are the hazards? On the panel with me is James C. Glass.

    Researching Pasts that Never Were – 4:30-5:30pm – Executive Board Room. Alternate history, steampunk, and weird westerns are often set in pasts that never existed. The panel discusses researching histories that never were. What details can you change? What details shouldn’t you change? At what point are you including too much of your research? On the panel with me are Ernest Hogan, Jamie Wyman, and Tony Padegimas.

Duncan’s Books and More will be selling books in the dealer’s room and should have a selection of my titles. If you’ll be in Phoenix next weekend, I hope I’ll see you at LepreCon!

Advertisements

Branigan Library Book Talk on Wednesday

On Wednesday, June 13 at 1:30pm, the Friends of the Branigan Library in Las Cruces, New Mexico have invited me to present a Book Talk about my Clockwork Legion novels. I’ll be presenting at the library’s main branch at the corner of Picacho and Main Streets.

I’m proud to have called the Mesilla Valley my home for the last 23 years. It’s a real honor to give a presentation and reading in my home town. Garnering an interest in history from family trips as a child, I brought my interests together in the Clockwork Legion novels. The Clockwork Legion series includes four novels: Owl Dance, Lightning Wolves, The Brazen Shark, and Owl Riders. In the Clockwork Legion novels I combine science fiction and history to imagine a world that wasn’t, but could have been, weaving stories reminiscent of those told by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.

The Clockwork Legion novels follow the adventures of Ramon Morales, a former sheriff of Socorro, and Fatemeh Karimi, a healer from Persia. During their adventures together, they meet inventors, outcasts, misfits, and even pirates who they gather together when the Russians use airships to invade the Civil War-ravaged United States in 1877.

The third novel in the series, The Brazen Shark, was voted Best Steampunk Novel in the 2017 Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll. The fourth novel in the series, Owl Riders, was just released. I’m an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and a former vice president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. My poems have been nominated for the Rhysling and Dwarf Stars Awards by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

In my presentation, I plan to talk about the history of steampunk and weird western stories. I also plan to talk about how I got started writing steampunk and weird westerns in general as well as how the Clockwork Legion novels in particular came about. I’ll give a couple of readings and I will have books available for sale at the talk. I gather refreshments will be served as well. If you’re in Las Cruces, I hope you’ll join me for this fun Book Talk. I look forward to meeting you.

If you want to learn more about the books before the talk, visit: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Vampyr

A few weeks ago, I discovered a vampire film from the 1930s that I had never encountered before. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, the movie Vampyr was filmed about the same time as Universal’s Dracula but was released about a year later. The film features an original script with elements inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s stories “Carmilla” and “The Room in the Dragon Volant” which appeared in the collection In a Glass Darkly.

Unlike other vampire films of the period, this doesn’t involve sinister castles in Eastern Europe. Instead, at its heart, the film feels a lot like some of Hammer Studio’s better vampire films from the 1960s. We meet a fellow named Allan Gray, ostensibly on a fishing trip in the French countryside, who stops at an inn. We learn at the beginning that Gray is interested in the occult and soon strange things happen. A man visits his room on his first night and leaves him a package, with the instructions that the package should not be opened unless the man dies. Gray then takes the package and follows ghostly shadows to a neighboring mill. A shadow of a rifleman seems to guide him to a point where the shadow then joins the corporeal rifleman who has been sitting in one place the whole time.

Gray ultimately leaves the mill and goes to a nearby manor house. Right as he arrives, the Lord of the manner drops over, as though dead. It appears that he’s killed by a gunshot from the shadowy rifleman, but that’s not all clear. He may easily have had a heart attack or a stroke or been harmed by some other supernatural force. At this point, the film takes on a more familiar vampire narrative flow, at least for a while. We learn that the lord’s older daughter, Léon has been preyed upon by a local vampire and she cannot be allowed to die, or she will turn into a vampire too. The lord’s younger daughter, Gisèle is also under threat of becoming a vampire. When the lord does succumb to the gunshot, or other injury, Gray discovers that his parcel is a book about vampires and how to deal with them. He teams up with the servants of the house to hunt the vampire.

Like Dracula, Vampyr is an early sound picture. The movie works to keep dialogue at a minimum and gives us a lot of information on narrative intertitle cards and on the pages of the vampire book. The movie also relies a lot on visual imagery to tell the story. I’ve already mentioned a little about shadows that become detached from their owners, but there are other odd elements, such as skulls that turn to face the room’s occupants and hints that we’re seeing what characters perceive rather than what they literally see. At one point, Allan himself seems to split into two spiritual forms. One form is left behind. The other form returns to the mill and finds both where the younger daughter is locked up and his own dead body in a coffin. He then becomes the dead body who is transported from the mill to the graveyard whereupon his spiritual selves reunite.

As a fan of vampire literature, one thing I love about this film is how it associates the vampires with ghosts and phantoms. The only other film I’ve seen that used is Nosferatu and even there, it’s only hinted at. I also liked the fact that the film’s “Master Vampire” appeared as an elderly woman who has men in her thrall. One of those men may also be a vampire, though it’s never entirely clear. I also love the experimental nature of this film. On Monday, I talked a little about “superhero fatigue” and really that’s a subset of seeing the same things over and over again in film. It’s nice to see a film dare to experiment with images and trust the audience to interpret what it’s seeing. And that’s what makes this film special. I’ve given it an interpretation, but you may see some elements differently depending on whether you take them literally or symbolically.

If you’re a vampire fan, it’s definitely worth checking out Vampyr. Of course, you can check out my vampire fiction by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Superheroes

This past weekend I saw Deadpool 2 with my daughter. I enjoyed the film and particularly its theme of seeking out love and family in the wake of violence and chaos. It’s funny with a lot of self-aware, and sometimes inappropriate, humor. It also left me pondering Hollywood’s current obsession with superheroes. I sometimes feel like I suffer something I call “superhero fatigue.” Sort of a groan that escapes involuntarily when I see another new superhero film announced. Yet, I do go back to some that particularly grab my eye. Films like Logan, Wonder Woman, and Deadpool have engaged me in spite of my fatigue.

I loved superheroes as a kid, both from comic books and on television. I probably discovered them on television first through such shows as Filmation’s Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure and the famous Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Discovering my friends from TV in comic book form no doubt helped me improve my reading. Because of when my birthday fell, I was only four when I started Kindergarten. I was younger than most of my classmates and smaller. My size probably wasn’t helped by my mom smoking while she was pregnant with me. As such, I have the familiar story of being the small kid picked on relentlessly by his classmates. I know I loved superheroes because I loved to imagine myself having super powers and impressing the other kids in class. Of course, super powers would also have given me the ability to beat up the worst of the bullies.

As an adult and a writer, I see superheroes in a different light. I’ve come to recognize that all good superheroes have limits or weaknesses and the best stories are when the villain pushes past those limits and weaknesses. All the best superheroes have people they love and they can be hurt when the people around them are hurt. That’s how Deadpool 2 starts.

As an adult, there are still dangerous forces I sometimes feel powerless to stop, such as climate change, poverty, and overblown man-children with nuclear arms who like to taunt each other through social media. Because of that, there’s still appeal in wondering whether I could do something about them if I had superpowers. Yet, it’s often the more mundane, day-to-day challenges that cause the most anxiety. Will my daughter be safe at school? How can I afford that bill I forgot about? Where did that bad Amazon review come from? Did they even read the book I wrote? Even if I had superpowers, those things probably wouldn’t change. I have to work through my limitations to find solutions to those things. I have to teach my daughter to be aware of possible dangers and avoid them when possible. I maybe have to sacrifice something for that bill, or reevaluate my finances. I should be brave like a superhero and look at that review and see whether or not there’s something I can learn from it.

The closest thing I’ve ever written to superhero fiction is Vampires of the Scarlet Order about a team of vampire mercenaries who must save humanity from itself. Can vampires be superheroes? Just ask Marvel’s Blade, who was brilliantly portrayed a few years ago by Wesley Snipes. As it turns out, I first learned about Blade when Neal Asher compared my book to Marvel’s movie and comic book series. My vampires have great power. They can move fast and have great strength. They’re hunters, but they have limits. Among other things, they can only work at night and they can be destroyed. As with the heroes in Deadpool 2, they also find family in unexpected places. If you care to see my take on superheroes, visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html to learn more.

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

On May 19, my daughter graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans. The day’s events included an amazing unified commencement ceremony in the morning where all the graduating students gathered in the Super Dome. That afternoon, we watched her walk across the stage as she received her diploma from the College of Science and Engineering. Honorary doctorates were conveyed to notable people at the unified commencement. Among them were Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, who sang her song, “It’s Raining.” The unified ceremony also included an inspiring and thoughtful commencement speech by two-time National Book Award winner, Jesmyn Ward.

While my wife and I had visited New Orleans several times on previous trips, visiting the campus and taking our daughter to school, our visits had, for various reasons been limited. This time, we saved up some money cleared our calendars and decided to spend a week in New Orleans, exploring the city and its surroundings. Even a week in New Orleans might have been beyond our means, except that we had a place to stay where we could make many of our own meals. The food in New Orleans is terrific and part of the experience that should not be missed, but it can be expensive.

Among the highlights of our trip were visits to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, the Voodoo Museum, and the Audubon Aquarium. One morning we drove down to Jean Lafitte National Park and took a swamp tour, where we saw numerous alligators and turtles. While we were frugal with our food budget, we did splurge on a fine dinner at Muriel’s on Jackson Square. The food was fabulous and I especially appreciated the care the wait staff gave to our daughters and they’re challenging suite of food allergies. They went the extra mile to make sure everyone went away happy. One highlight of Muriel’s is the haunted room upstairs. I took several photos, but never saw any ghosts. There were sarcophagi, which seemed fitting given the release of After Punk the day we dined there.

What makes New Orleans truly special for me is less the touristy stuff and more a magical blend of the people and the overall atmosphere of the city and its surroundings. New Orleans essentially exists in a wetlands environment and life surrounds you. Not just human life like you’d find in a big city like New York or Los Angeles, but magnolia trees and pines, insects and small animals. Of course, you do see a wide variety of the human condition from the desolate, to many people struggling to make a living, to people of privilege throwing cash around at every opportunity. Of course, it’s a city in peril every time a hurricane or even a drenching rain comes through. Global sea level rise could threaten the city. Yet the science fiction writer in me has a hard time imagining the city vanishing forever. It’s versatile and it changes and adapts. There is literal magic in the air. Sometimes it’s just a helping hand from a stranger when you didn’t expect it. Sometimes it’s sitting on a balcony and listening to a trumpeter a block away giving you the gift of his songs. Sometimes the magic comes in walking down the street and seeing a parade break out for no reason that you’ve heard about.

It’s probably fitting that we spent our final evening in New Orleans actually watching a magic show presented by Dr. Joe Dalgo at Potions Lounge. The show captured a lot of what I love about New Orleans. He drew me in with storytelling and history. It felt less like a “show” or an “event” and more like a gathering to appreciate Dr. Dalgo’s talents and knowledge. It was entertaining but I also felt I went away having made new friends.

Speaking of friends, Marita Crandle, who runs Potions Lounge also runs Boutique du Vampyre. She hosted a marvelous signing for me and is one of the people who truly makes me feel at home in New Orleans. If you visit the Crescent City you should visit the Boutique and also pay a visit to Potions. If you can’t make it to New Orleans, you can still shop online at: http://feelthebite.com. Not only will you find signed copies of my vampire novels in the Vampire Library section, but you’ll find my wife’s Monster Eye Bag Charms in the Cabinet of Curiosities.

My daughter has left New Orleans and that makes it hard to say when I’ll be back. I’ve been gone less than a week and yet it beckons me back. I don’t know when the next trip will be, only that there will be a next trip because I have indeed learned what it means to miss New Orleans.

Tips for a Successful Author Reading

On Friday, I had a great time giving a reading at Potions Lounge, a speakeasy bar on Bourbon Street in New Orleans managed by Marita Crandle, owner of Boutique du Vampyre. I love reading from my work and, in recent years, I almost always sell books as a result of my readings. Unfortunately, readings are not always well attended, especially at venues such as science fiction conventions. The reason is simply that many readings don’t prove to be memorable experiences and people skip them for other events. Below I present a few tips that have worked for me when giving readings.

Don’t read from the book

This may sound counterintuitive, but allow me to explain. Often at a reading, the first thing I see someone do is pull out a copy of their novel and start reading from it. It seems like a good idea because you’re reading the words as they were published and you’re showing off your book. The problem is that font sizes and bindings often mean you have to hold the book closer to your face than ideal. It also can be surprisingly easy to lose your place, especially if you look up to make eye contact with the audience.

I took a lesson from my days in choir. I print out my reading with a nice, easy to read font on one side of the paper and put it in a notebook. It allows me to hold the book further away, making it easier to look up from time to time and make eye contact. If you want to show off your cover on what you’re reading from, you can print out a nice copy and slip it into the plastic sleeve on the front of the binder. Better yet, bring your book and prop it up on a table while you read.

Go slow

When I’m nervous, I start talking faster. When I talk faster, I stumble over my words and my words become non-distinct. My mom’s family is originally from Texas and when I catch myself doing this during a reading, I summon my inner Texan and slow down. By this, I don’t mean that I drawl my words, but I take my time with each word and make sure I see and say each one in turn. It’s actually quite hard to go too slow during a reading.

Practice beforehand

I spend months and perhaps even years with a manuscript before it’s published. Therefore I must know it inside and out. Right? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean I can read it well. Again, taking a lesson from those choir days, it doesn’t matter how well you think you know a story, practicing always helps. A rehearsal session also allows you time to experiment with varying your voice for different characters. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, just work on making sure you learn to read their dialogue as naturally as possible. Some readings enforce time limits, especially if you’re reading during the same session as others. Practice helps assure that your reading will fit. Make sure you practice going slow!

Read a complete piece

I don’t necessarily mean that you should read a novel from cover to cover or even a complete chapter if your chapters are long. However, your reading should have a hook, some development, and some kind of satisfying conclusion. Let your audience feel as though they’ve had a complete storytelling experience.

Lagniappe

This is a term from Southern Louisiana and it means “a little something extra.” Always give your audience some kind of lagniappe. A baker might give you a thirteenth doughnut when you order a dozen. When I give a reading, I try to do something a little extra and fun. The photo above is from WesterCon in Phoenix where I showed a rough cut of the book trailer for The Astronomer’s Crypt during my reading. At Bubonicon, later that year, I read from my new anthology Kepler’s Cowboys and invited fellow contributor Gene Mederos to read with me. He showed off some of the artwork he’d created inspired by the stories. I’ve done Halloween readings where I give out candy. I even did a space pirate reading where we sung sea chanties. A lagniappe doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t even have to cost you anything. What it should do is let the audience know they’re special and appreciated.

Are you an author who has given readings? If you have additional tips, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

After Punk

I had a great signing yesterday at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. For those who missed the event, I left behind some signed books which can be bought through their website. Tonight, in Baltimore, eSpec Books will be unveiling a cool new anthology that features my story “The Sun Worshiper.” Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t allow me to attend, but I would encourage anyone in the Baltimore area to go check out the release party tonight at Balticon. Click the link for more information about the convention. Meanwhile, allow me to tell you more about After Punk and my story.

While mankind can scarce hope to pierce the Veil without crossing it, a few intrepid souls will ever bend their will against the aether, combining artifice and the arcane to uncover its secrets.

From voodoo death cults to the Day of the Dead, mummy parties, the wheel of reincarnation, the practice of death portraits, and so much more, these tales leave no gravestone unturned.

Be it heaven or hell or the limbo in between, the hereafter is about to get ‘Punked.

With stories by Jody Lynn Nye, David Sherman, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, James Chambers, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jeffrey Lyman, Bernie Mojzes, Travis I. Sivart, Jeff Young, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, and yours truly.

My story, “The Sun Worshiper,” is about a spiritualist named Dinela Stanton who is invited to a mummy unwrapping party in London hosted by a prominent scientist. When she arrives, she finds all her fellow guests are scientists who have denounced her as a fraud. To make matters worse, it would appear that the scientist who invited Dinela is attempting to perpetrate a deception of his own.

The story was born from two sources. When I was in elementary school, I had the opportunity to see the Tutankhamen exhibit as it toured the United States. I was captivated, as were many, with all the wealth and beautifully preserved items found in the king’s tomb. Of course, as a young boy, I was both creeped out and fascinated by things like canopic jars and mummified cats.

I’m also intrigued by the Victorian obsession with séances and attempting to contact the spirit world. While studying the paranormal and the scientific method in college, I learned how many spiritualists managed to fool people. Despite that, I sometimes find myself wondering what would happen if a real spiritualist would come along and demonstrate real ability to the most ardent skeptics. To my mind, a true spiritualist wouldn’t help but be captivated by the idea of contacting the spirit of an ancient Egyptian mummy, and might even stick around in the face of her detractors.

After Punk is available in paperback and ebook at: