Wild Wild West Con 4

The Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention 4 will be held in Tucson, Arizona from March 6-8, 2015 at Old Tucson Studios. In 2014, it received the Steampunk Chronicle Reader’s Choice Award for Best Steampunk Convention in the Southwest. I’m honored to be one of the featured guests alongside such people as Abney Park, Steam Powered Giraffe, Drake and McTrowell, Brian Kesinger, Thomas Willeford, Eric Burton, and David Grasse. Visit www.wildwestcon.com for more information.

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I’ll be giving several panels and workshops over the weekend. Here’s my schedule:

Friday, March 6

  • 1:00 HIGH CHAPARRAL: Victorians and the Paranormal – Ghosts, séances, vampires, you name it, the Victorians probably believed in it. An exploration of Victorian encounters with the dead.
  • 5:00 COURTROOM CENTER: Building a Steampunk Telescope – I show you how to build a telescope that’s not only fashionable, but functional and easy to use. I present tips on where to buy optics and detailed construction information.

Saturday, March 7

  • 12:00 CHAPEL: Steampunk Flash Fiction – Compose an entire story of 200 words or less? Surely it can’t be done! I presents a make and take workshop where you compose a very short steampunk tale.
  • 3:00 COURTHOUSE: Drake and McTrowell’s Hot Potato School of Writing. The authors of Drake & McTrowell will lead two guest authors (of which I will be one) and the audience in a madcap improvisational writing game show reminiscent of their signature “Hot Potato” team writing style.
  • 5:00 HIGH CHAPARRAL: Writing Steampunk – Steampunk writers gather to discuss the research that goes into their writing, what makes Steampunk special to them, and how they get their work published. With me on the panel are David Grasse and Stephen Chapman.

When I’m not giving a presentation, you can find me in the Vendor Barn sharing a table with Dr. Sparky McTrowell and Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake. I’ll have all of my steampunk books, plus an assortment of other fun reading materials. Be sure to stop by and say “hi!”

Artistic Inspiration

As a writer, I sometimes turn to artwork for inspiration. Danforth-painting A number of years ago, I bought the painting at the left from the wonderful artist Liz Danforth. As I recall, this was painted as an illustration for a collectable card game, but I liked the mysterious western story it implied. I asked myself who the lawman was and who was the mysterious figure lurking outside the window. Over time, as I worked with the characters and made them my own, the lawman became the owl-like, bespectacled sheriff, Ramon Morales. The figure outside the window seemed perhaps Arab or Persian, could be male or female. I imagined a witch, but as the character came to life in my mind, I realized she was really a healer who was misunderstood. If I were to describe Ramon and Fatemeh from Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves, I don’t think you’d see the characters in this painting, but the painting started the creative process rolling.

Speaking of the novel I’m writing, I managed to get stalled out over the holidays. It wasn’t really writer’s block or anything of that sort, just life getting in the way and being busy. I had to push past the inertia to get writing again. ornithopter While at Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium in Long Beach last month, my artist’s table was next to the Nathaniel Johnstone Band. Nathaniel’s wife is the amazingly talented Laura Tempest Zakroff. I came to admire her artwork and asked if I could pay her to do a rendition of the owl ornithopters from my steampunk books. The illustration at right is the result. The feeling of adventure inspired by the mechanical owl in flight made me want to leap back into that world again and continue on.

For Valentine’s Day, my wife gave me a lovely knitted turquoise Jackalope. jackalope His contented expression and metallic antlers speak to me and suggest story ideas. I don’t know yet where a jackalope or something like one will appear, but I’m guessing it will happen sooner or later and it might well happen in the book I’m writing now.

If you’d like to meet Ramon and Fatemeh and see the owl ornithopters in action, try out a copy of Owl Dance or Lightning Wolves. Following the links will take you to pages where you can read sample chapters and find a variety of buying choices.

Has a piece of art inspired you? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Harlock, Firebrandt, and Reynolds

During the holidays, while watching Space Battleship Yamato 2199 with my daughter, the subject of another anime icon came up—Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Harlock My daughter found some on-line references to the title character. Although I knew about him and had long ago seen him in the Galaxy Express 999 movie, my knowledge of the show was limited. After returning to college, she discovered that the original 1978 Captain Harlock series is at crunchyroll.com.

In the meantime, I had a deadline approaching for a short story. The idea that I developed seemed perfect for my own space pirate captain, Ellison Firebrandt. I spent a chunk of the last two weeks working on the story. Once I had a draft I liked, I set the story aside, as is standard practice for me before submitting it. During that time, I decided to watch a few episodes of Space Pirate Captain Harlock. The series was created by Leiji Matsumoto, the artist behind the original Space Battleship Yamato. In fact, Harlock was originally created to be a character in Yamato, but Matsumoto decided he didn’t want to give up creative control of the character, so reserved him for other projects.

As it turns out, Harlock and Firebrandt have a lot in common. Both will fight to protect Earth, even if both are often frustrated by what Earth has become. Firebrandt Both are seen as criminals, even though they are each guided by a moral compass. Both value their freedom and the freedom of those who serve under them. Many of the human colonies beyond Earth are wild, untamed places which sometimes have a distinct wild west feel.

This brings me to something else that’s a bit uncanny. While watching the 1978 Space Pirate Captain Harlock, I discovered the sequel/remake series Captain Herlock: The Endless Odyssey. Just to note, the good captain’s name is translated both as Harlock and Herlock, though it seems always to be pronounced like the former. MalReynoldsFirefly Endless Odyssey ran in 2002 and 2003, the same time as another series about space outlaws ran in the United States—Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Captain Malcolm Reynolds shares many noble and not-so-noble characteristics with Firebrandt and Harlock. Earth doesn’t really factor into the Firefly universe, but Reynolds does stand up for what he believes is right even though it routinely puts him on the wrong side of the law. Although he doesn’t call himself a pirate, he isn’t afraid to commit crime to make a living.

Endless Odyssey is a great, short series. I found the English-dubbed version on YouTube. It reminded me of Firefly many times, even down to the lonely guitar riffs. It was also very different, sometimes having an underground comic vibe. At times it even reminded me of the magazine and movie, Heavy Metal.

I gather there is little to no continuity among the different Harlock TV series. Harlock and his pirate crew are almost operatic figures, telling whatever story they need to. In fact, they were even called upon to retell the story of the opera Das Rheingold in Harlock Saga. I haven’t seen this series, but it’s definitely on my to-watch list. I suppose I see Captain Firebrandt, Roberts, Suki, and the crew of the Legacy in much the same way. They are reliable standbys and I can call upon them whenever I need to tell a good yarn. I just have to imagine what trouble they’ve gotten up to now. I do try to maintain some continuity, but especially among the short stories, I can’t promise that I haven’t shuffled it, at least a little.

Seeing that it’s Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but mention the romantic connections with these space pirates. Firefly’s Captain Malcolm Reynolds has his flirtatious relationship with the companion, Inara. Captain Ellison Firebrandt loves Suki Mori, a computer teacher he rescued from the dangerous world Prospero. Captain Harlock seems more aloof, though he clearly shared a bromance of sorts with his dear friend Tochiro. I also find myself wondering if his relationship with his blue-skinned adviser, Miime, is entirely platonic.

Speaking of “bromance” and much as I hate the term to describe a strong friendship between non-lovers, all three of these pirate stories have one of those. I’ve already mentioned the one in the Captain Harlock series. Firebrandt has a bromance with his first mate Roberts and it’s hard to describe Malcolm Reynolds’s relationship with Zoe Washburn as anything other than a bromance, despite their gender difference.

I’ve given you links to explore more about Captain Harlock. Fortunately, Browncoats have helped to assure that Firefly is readily available. If you’d like explore more about Captain Firebrandt, here’s a sampling of books in print where you can read his adventures:

And of course, when my latest Captain Firebrandt story sells, I’ll be sure to tell you about it right here. Happy Valentine’s Day!


Image notes: Captain Harlock image from Space Pirate Captain Herlock: The Endless Odyssey copyright Madhouse, Inc. Nathan Fillion as Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly copyright 20th Century Fox. Each image used under the fair use doctrine of US Copyright law in this article discussing the relevant series. Illustration of Captain Ellison Firebrandt by Laura Givens from the cover of The Pirates of Sufiro by David Lee Summers.

Book Trailers

Although the books have been out for a little while, I spent some time this past week working on book trailers for my novels Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves. I’ve wanted to create trailers for these books for a while, but my visions have typically been grander than my time or budget allowed. That said, people often compliment me on the covers of the books. Of course, those compliments really belong to the artist, Laura Givens, but the covers almost tell a story in their own own right and I realized I could use that idea to create teasers that give the reader an idea of where each book begins. Here’s the trailer for Owl Dance:

In this case, it helps that Laura was willing to let me work with the layered Photoshop files, which allowed me to isolate each of the elements on the cover. The painting used in the first frame is a public domain painting by Léon Trousset, a French painter who painted numerous scenes from around the Southwest. What’s especially exciting about this one is that it depicts one of the locations from the novel’s opening chapter.

The music comes from the generous Kevin MacLeod, who allows people to use his music through a Creative Commons license. You can find his music at Incompetech.com.

In the trailer for Lightning Wolves, I went for a slightly more subdued tone, trying to capture the mystery and suspense of the novel.

The photograph at the start of this video is one I took and shows one of the washes near Tombstone. It’s very much the terrain that the characters encounter in the novel and I think the scraggly branches tie into those Laura had in the background of the cover very well.

Follow these links to learn more about the novels:

A Little Help From My Friends

My previous work week at the observatory got off to a “wonderful” start when, after uploading a couple of anthologies to my Kindle e-reader, I unplugged the USB cable, fumbled the reader, and slam dunked it against a counter top. I discovered that’s a great way to damage the e-ink cells and it was pretty clear that my Kindle was dead. The Kindle was used when I got it and I received it in exchange for a signed copy of my novel The Solar Sea. I was heart-broken, more because of the sentimental value than for any physical value.

The Pirates of Sufiro

As it turns out, the fellow who gave me the original Kindle, stepped forward and offered me a new Kindle in exchange for some help at his small observatory in Benson, Arizona. I can’t say how special this is, because not only do I have a new device, it also comes with a new dose of sentimental value. Back at the beginning of my writing career, my benefactor, Jeff Lewis, helped out with the first audio production of The Pirates of Sufiro. He was the voice of the Legacy’s first mate, Carter Roberts. Jeff also provided some helpful digital editing advice in the days when few people had even heard of digital editing. Remember, you can download The Pirates of Sufiro absolutely free from Lachesis Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Perhaps befitting this gesture, this past week, I’ve taken a short break from my steampunk-novel-in-progress to work on a new short story which features Roberts along with his captain, Ellison Firebrandt, and their fellow crewmember, Suki Mori. I won’t say too much about the story at this point other than to say that it does address friendship and its benefits and challenges. It also features giant squid. I’ll be sure to keep you posted about when and where this story will be appearing. If nothing else, it serves to add another chapter to my somewhat back burner project of compiling a collection of stories about my space pirates before they were stranded on the planet Sufiro.

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Needless to say, I feel pretty blessed this week by the good things that have happened to me, but I’m also blessed by an opportunity to give back. I’ve just learned the cookbook Cauldron of Love published by Writers Unite to Fight Cancer in Arizona has just come available for pre-order. Contributors to the cookbook include Brenda Novak, Margaret Larsen Turley, Marina Martindale, and many others including myself. 100% of the proceeds from this cookbook will be donated to cancer research. This book features eighteen categories with international family favorites, remedies, delicious gluten free and dairy free cuisine, comfort food for patients battling cancer and other tantalizing morsels. Visit http://writersunitetofightcancer.org/cauldron-of-love/ to order or get more information.

HRM Steampunk Symposium 2015

I spent last weekend aboard the Queen Mary docked at Long Beach, California for the 2015 edition of Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium. We kicked things off by listening to the radio show edition of London, Where It All Began by David L. Drake and Katherine L. Morse on the drive over. The authors attended the symposium in their Drake and McTrowell personae, and their stories are a delight.

Reading at HRMSS

Once we arrived at the Queen Mary, I made a quick change and went right to my first event, where I read the first chapter of my latest novel, Lightning Wolves. Although it was early in the convention, some brave souls arrived and took in the story. After the reading, I attended a presentation on Victorian-era Voodoo in New Orleans by my friend Denise Dumars.

As day gave way to night, we set up two telescopes on the sun deck of the Queen Mary in hopes of viewing the Orion Nebula, Jupiter, and any other objects we could find through the bright lights and sea air of Long Beach. The little steampunk telescope I described last week proved to be a success. It was easy to use and we found objects right away. My 8-inch Celestron which I’ve had for thirty years proved a bit more challenging, but I finally figured out I mis-read the label on the eyepiece I selected and it was both one difficult to use with all the lights around and a narrower field of view than I thought. I moved to a wider field-of-view Plössl eyepiece and things went much more smoothly.

I rounded out the night by attending a magic show by the talented Aiden Sinclair. This show took the form of a séance to summon Jack the Ripper. Of course, Aiden is an illusionist and doesn’t claim to actually summon ghosts, but this was a small intimate group and we got to watch his work in detail. It was a wonderful show and I also had a chance to visit with friends such as Drake and McTrowell, long into the night.

Drake and McTrowell

The next day came much too soon. Kumie and I awoke and took books up to our merch table outside the dealer’s room, where we were delighted to spend the day next to Nathaniel Johnstone and Laura Tempest Zakroff’s table on one side and Gaslight Gathering’s table on the other. We had a wonderful day chatting with readers and other steampunks. That afternoon, I presented my “Mars, Across the Aether” talk where I told a tale of the red planet, its canals, Queen Victoria’s watercolor teacher and extraterrestrial signals detected by Nicola Tesla. Afterwards, we returned to the deck to set up the telescopes. Here you see me working alongside my youngest daughter.

HRMSS Telescopes

Once the viewing finished for the night, I made my way back to the main ballroom to catch the Nathaniel Johnstone Band. They were in great form and it was a delight to hear such favorite songs as “Snugglefish,” “Stone Woman,” and “Frog and Toad.”

Sunday morning saw a return to the merch table for a short time. Early in the afternoon, I promised to serve as second for Steampunk Gamera in a grudge match tea duel against Steampunk Godzilla.

HRMSS Dueling

For those unfamiliar with tea dueling, it is a competition which allows two people (or monsters) to settle their differences with a show of manners and decorum rather than through the use of arms. Girded with a cookie and cup of tea, the opponents each dunk their cookie into the tea for a five count. Once raised, the last one to eat their cookie without it crumbling is the winner. In the Gamera vrs. Godzilla tea duel, the seconds had to take the field as shown here. Godzilla’s second is the delightful Madame Askew.

After the tea dueling, I gave a presentation on building the steampunk telescope. Sadly, because of the long drive back to New Mexico, we then had to pack up and leave immediately afterward. The weekend was a delightful blur, but I hope to make it back again next year. My next convention will also be a foray back to the age of steam, Wild Wild West Con in Tucson, Arizona. Stay tuned for more details!

Steampunk Telescope

Back in November, I wrote a post that discussed building a telescope. The telescope worked great. The only problem was that without a mount, it was hard to point and keep the telescope on a target. This made it hard for multiple people to enjoy the view, or even for one person to look for more than a few seconds. To kick off this year, I built a simple mount for the telescope and this weekend, at Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium in Long Beach, California, I’ll be hosting viewings through the telescope and showing people how they can build one just like it.

steampunk dobsonian

The mount I built is basically a variation of one described at the 10-minute Astronomy Blog. Because my telescope is in a cardboard tube, I built a wooden box that fit snugly around the tube to hold the altitude bearings. Like the mount described in the 10-minute Astronomy Blog, my bearings are simply grated PVC end caps. I lined the wooden box with felt to snug the fit a bit more and avoid damaging the tube as I slid it in place. Allowing the altitude bearing box to be a pressure fit allows me to rotate the tube inside and it allows me to adjust the position of the telescope if I should add weight to one end or the other.

Another variation is that instead of building the ground board from scratch, my wife found a rotating TV stand at a thrift store for 99 cents. I simply put rubber feet on the bottom of my rocker box and set it on the TV stand.

Finally, I found that my elevation axis had a tendency to slip sideways, causing the telescope to slip out of the V-cuts. I solved this by adding melding plates to the outside of the V-cuts that keep the telescope from slipping sideways. I could possibly have also prevented this problem by making my rocker box a little narrower.

So, what makes this a “steampunk” telescope? First of all, it’s a Newtonian telescope very similar in design to the one Nathaniel Green, painting instructor to Queen Victoria, used to observe Mars in 1877. I painted the tube with brass spray paint to give it that old-fashioned brass tube look of nineteenth century telescope.

Although it gets dangerously close to the song “Just Glue Some Gears On It (And Call It Steampunk)”, I did glue some gears on my Dobsonian mount. I tried to evoke the idea of the clockworks that were used to drive old telescopes. What’s more, they make the melding plates looks more decorative than purely functional. I also added a steampunk cuckoo clock decal to the top of the mount. After all, time is very important to astronomy!

Verity-Telescope

In a sense, the sky’s the limit—literally! The cardboard tube and simple wooden mount allow you decorate your telescope in a myriad of splendid ways, so you can go stargazing in style! My only recommendation would be to keep lights to a minimum to keep your telescope functional. The stand and telescope are lightweight and easily transportable, making them good for taking out any time you want. And really, that’s the point of having a little telescope like this, so everyone can enjoy the wonders the sky has to offer.