A Time of Milestones

The middle of May 2015 marks several milestones in my life. In chronological order, my youngest daughter celebrated her thirteenth birthday, I turned in my tenth novel for publication, Hadrosaur Productions celebrates its twentieth birthday, and my wife and I celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Twent-Five-Years

On the left are my wife and I about a year before we were married and the photo on the left was taken a little over a year ago. I have to say, those twenty-five years have gone by quickly. While it’s a little sad to see my little girl grow up, I’ve had to remind myself it’s the nature of life and I’m proud of the young woman she is growing into. She has a bright future ahead.

Novel number ten is The Brazen Shark, third novel in my Clockwork Legion Steampunk series, contracted by Sky Warrior Publishing. Beta readers have gone over the book and given me feedback, which I’ve applied to the novel as I’ve polished it for submission. It now joins novel number nine, waiting to begin edits. Number nine is The Astronomer’s Crypt, which is at Lachesis Publishing. I’m told my editor is ready to begin work and I’m just waiting for the contract to arrive.

Hadrosaur Productions was founded as part of my wife’s final project for her Masters in Business Administration at the University of Arizona. The original vision of the company was to produce audio stories, but the focus soon shifted to books and Hadrosaur Tales Magazine, which we published for ten years. Afterwards, we reformatted the magazine and called it Tales of the Talisman. Now as we celebrate our twentieth anniversary, the magazine will be going back into a chrysalis phase. Of course, Hadrosaur Productions has been much more than a magazine publisher. We also publish anthologies, have served as a cooperative publisher for novels, and we sell books at conventions. Of course, we also do have three audiobooks. To celebrate this particular milestone, we’re offering 20% off all our novels, anthologies, and audiobooks for the next month. This includes many of my novels! Drop by hadrosaur.com and celebrate twenty years with us.

Last but not least, this brings us to the twenty-five years of marriage with Kumie Wise. Fact of the matter is, none of these milestones would have been possible without her. Not only is she mother and wife, but as noted in the paragraph before, founder of Hadrosaur Productions. She’s also my biggest fan—the one who makes sure I don’t get distracted with other projects, and actually finishes the books I’m working on.

Of course twenty-fifth anniversaries are a common time for people to ask, how did you make it work? I routinely come back to one of the great quotes by Robert A. Heinlein’s character Lazarus Long: “Formal courtesy between husband and wife is even more important than it is between strangers.” The quote reminds me that it’s important to be considerate of feelings. It reminds me that no matter what, we’re in business together. In this case, I’m not talking about Hadrosaur Productions so much as the business of running a household and raising kids. Being courteous with each other, helps us set an example for the kids. Yeah, we’ve often forgotten this, but part of formal courtesy is knowing the importance of apology, forgiveness and moving on. Here’s to the next set of milestones!

Red Sun

On April 12, the Tucson Steampunk Society’s book club invited me to discuss my western steampunk novel Lightning Wolves at their monthly meeting. Red_sun_movieposter Many of the book club members pointed to Masuda Hoshi as one of their favorite characters. He’s a former samurai who left Japan to farm green chilies in New Mexico and was inspired by such real life Japanese farmers as Kuniji Tashiro and John Nakayama. Unlike the real life Japanese farmers (as far as I know), Hoshi is hired by the army to track down an outlaw who steals a lightning gun which was being developed to fight the Russian invasion of 1877.

A couple of the book club members suggested I might like the 1972 Western movie Red Sun starring Charles Bronson as an outlaw named Link Stuart who teams up with the samurai Kuroda Jubie, played by Toshiro Mifune, to recover a stolen, golden katana meant as a gift for President Grant. The film was directed by Terence Young, noted for directing several James Bond films including Dr. No and Thunderball.

The movie was a lot of fun, particularly since I’m a fan of both Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. Although the samurai of the former and the gunmen of the latter aren’t exactly analogs of one another, Toshiro Mifune’s Kikuchiyo and Charles Bronson’s Bernardo O’Reilly share similar traits. So it was great to see them on screen together and playing off each other. The two clearly had a great time.

Red Sun does perpetuate a couple of historical misunderstandings. Perhaps most jarring to me, the movie implied samurai were unfamiliar with firearms. In fact, firearms go all the way back to the 13th century in Japan, and their use became widespread in the 16th when European firearms were introduced.

Also of interest, they referred to the emperor as “the Mikado.” I’m sure fans of Gilbert and Sullivan will recognize the title. It turns out it’s a bit mysterious how the word “Mikado” came into the English language. In fact, the word does not mean “Emperor” as they say in the movie. It refers to the gates of the Imperial Palace. I can easily imagine this mix-up happening between two people not entirely familiar with each others’ languages.

Although not related to samurai or Japanese culture, I was disappointed by the portrayal of the Comanches in the movie. In essence, they’re just like the Orcs of fantasy—agents of chaos, there to cause trouble when trouble needs causing. I would have liked at least a superficial reason for their raids in the movie, but that’s perhaps asking a lot of a 1972 Western.

Despite those issues, the movie has great costuming, wonderful location work, and, as I’ve mentioned already, the interplay between Bronson and Mifune is wonderful to watch.

Speaking of samurai, I’m nearly finished polishing The Brazen Shark, sequel to Lightning Wolves. If all goes as expected, the book will be sent to the publisher before the week is out.


Red Sun Movie Poster” licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of the movie Red Sun. Fair use via Wikipedia.

Gender Identity

This week has marked the tenth anniversary of the publication of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Vampires of the Scarlet Order I’m giving away up to five books. Be sure to visit the Scarlet Order Vampires Page for details about the Rafflecopter Giveaway. One of the things I love about the novel is that I tell the story in the voices of men and women from several different cultures. I love the interplay and diversity the novel represents.

Also, this past week, I had an interesting discussion with my college-age daughter. She pointed out that there’s a lot of peer pressure on her campus to settle on a gender and sexual identity. I’m not really surprised by this given how much these issues have been in the news lately. What I found interesting was how quantized her peers view gender and sexual identity. In short, I gather there’s a strong expectation that a person of a particular gender and sexual identity will follow a particular, strictly codified set of behaviors.

At some level, this makes perfect sense. We have certain social expectations for people based on how they identify themselves. On the other hand, it seems just a little disturbing. In my experience, there’s a complex mix of genetics, upbringing, and life experience that go into who each of us are. The result is that I have a difficult time seeing the sexual spectrum as a discrete set of identities. Rather, optical spectra blend from one color to another. I suspect there’s a similar blending and blurring between the lines in gender and sexual identification as well.

Stepping back a bit, a friend of mine raising a toddler has been dealing with the issues of boy toys and girl toys. The toy store is clearly delineated into these two sections forcing a whole lot of expectations on what makes a girl and what makes a boy. In some ways, this strict quantization of gender and sexual identity feels like a limited version of what I’m discussing. It’s just that instead of two, you now have several discrete choices. A gay male will follow one strict set of social guidelines, a heterosexual female will follow another strict set of guidelines, and so on.

Where this comes into play personally is when I hear some people talk about the expected gender roles for a heterosexual, cisgendered male. For example, I’ve read articles and heard stories that say boys like sports, rough and tumble play, and that they’re hard wired to compete and win. Thing is, I never really was into sports or rough and tumble play. I can be competitive, but it’s actually something I have to work at. I much preferred to read and make up stories as a kid. Despite all that, I think I would be dishonest if I described myself as anything but a heterosexual, cisgendered male.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek once said we’ll be ready to go to the stars when we move beyond merely tolerating people for their differences but actually celebrating people for what makes them unique and different. Next time you meet a stranger, try not to classify them. Try to get to know what makes them unique and interesting.

Dangerous Aliens

This past week, I’ve been at Kitt Peak National Observatory, helping to obtain spectra of distant galaxies, while at the same time, waiting for my beta readers to get back to me with their comments about my novel, The Brazen Shark. Obtaining these spectra is a process that involves precisely positioning the telescope on a faint galaxy so light goes down a fiber optic bundle to a spectrograph two floors below. Once the light arrives, it’s separated by a grating and recorded on a camera. It’s a process that involves a lot of care and patience. What’s more, it can be especially tricky, when the wind is gusting around 45 miles per hour!

Children of the Old Stars

These kinds of long nights are good ones for contemplating what life might be out there looking back at us. Back in 2010, Stephen Hawking famously said in a series for the Discover Channel, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” It’s a pretty pessimistic view.

Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer for the SETI Institute rebutted that statement, saying, “This is an unwarranted fear. If their interest in our planet is for something valuable that our planet has to offer, there’s no particular reason to worry about them now. If they’re interested in resources, they have ways of finding rocky planets that don’t depend on whether we broadcast or not. They could have found us a billion years ago.” Shostak makes a good point, but well meaning people have caused disasters without trying.

The universe is so vast and there are so many stars out there, as I’m reminded during each of my working nights, that it’s almost inconceivable to think we’re the only intelligent life. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to find intelligent life taking many different forms ranging from frightening to benevolent and a whole range in between. In that sense, I suspect that both Hawking and Shostak are right. We’ll find life we’ll enjoy meeting and life we’ll regret meeting.

Also, there’s been a lot of talk in the news that life may be closer to us than we’ve thought. NASA scientists are talking about sending a probe to Jupiter’s moon Europa where they believe conditions are right for simple life to exist. One thing I’ve long suspected is that if an alien race is advanced enough for long-distance space exploration, they can probably hide themselves from us rather easily, much as a hunter can hide behind a duck blind.

Heirs of the New Earth

I experiment with all of these ideas in my Old Star/New Earth science fiction novels. It’s perhaps not surprising the ideas for many of these came while working at Kitt Peak looking at the many wonders of the universe and discussing them with visiting astronomers.

In the novels, the Titans are benevolent aliens who live much closer than we might imagine. They hid for much of human history to avoid harming us. The Cluster is an ancient life form born of the oldest stars in our cosmic neighborhood. Saying much more will provide spoilers, but I will say contact with them doesn’t go so well. Other creatures such as the Rd’dyggians have their own agendas and just tend to ignore humans, unless they feel they need something.

Here’s hoping any encounters you have with aliens turn out to be pleasant ones!

A Week of Editing

My third Clockwork Legion novel, The Brazen Shark is due at the publisher in just under a month. Ten Percent Solution In the memoir, On Writing, Stephen King says, “Your job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft—one of them, anyway—is to make that something even more clear. This may necessitate some big changes and revisions. The benefits to you and your reader will be clearer focus and a more unified story. It hardly ever fails.” One of the tools I’m using to clarify things in the second draft of The Brazen Shark is a little book called The 10% Solution by Ken Rand, shown here in front of my keyboard.

Phyllis Irene Radford, my editor on Lightning Wolves introduced me to The 10% Solution and I now see that Sky Warrior Books recommends that all authors apply the book’s methods before submitting a manuscript for publication. In short, the method is to use your word processor to highlight the adverbs, the over-used words, and the wishy-washy verbs and adjectives like “was” and “very” so you can evaluate them, so you can decide if you can say them more clearly or in a stronger way. Lightning Wolves clearly benefited from the technique and I feel The Brazen Shark is getting stronger as I work through it using Ken Rand’s methods.

Not only am I editing the novel, I recently received notes from an editor about a story I’d submitted to an anthology she’s editing. In essence, her notes went right to the same point. She was working to get me to be more clear and precise. I’d written the story before I read The 10% Solution, but after going through her suggestions, I’m guessing the story would have needed less work if I’d applied those lessons ahead of time. Fortunately, she likes the story enough that it’s likely to appear in the anthology. The first moral of the story is that a good story can sell even if it needs work, so don’t worry too much about making it perfect. The second moral of the story is that your chances greatly improve the better the story is the first time around!

Tales10-4-cover

Finally, I’m in the process of editing Tales of the Talisman volume 10, issue 4. This will be the last issue before we take a break. Stories will be going out to the artists early next week. At this point, I suspect we’ll get the issue out in June. Although it’s a little sad to think about this phase of the magazine coming to an end, I have been excited to think about the directions we might take in 2016. Once I get The Brazen Shark turned in, I hope to start making more definite plans. Stay tuned!

Discovering Steampunk Books

There are lots of tools that make publishing easy, which is great in many ways, but it can make discovering new books a real challenge. Online bookstores such as Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords have a lot of books available, but what do you do if you want to browse a shelf of books and discover something new? Fortunately, there are some kind folks who make the time to curate collections of books for you to browse on the web.

SummersOwlDance

One such collection is the Empire Booksellers Page which features books by members of The Steampunk Empire. You’ll find short story collections, graphic novels, novellas and series by independent and small press authors you might have missed in other venues. I’m honored to say the Empire Booksellers features the Clockwork Legion series.

You don’t have to be a member of The Steampunk Empire to browse the Empire Booksellers, but you’d be missing out. I have found The Steampunk Empire to be a great site to share photos from steampunk events, talk to people about steampunk books, music, writing, and events. I hope you’ll drop by and look me up while you’re there. My page is at: http://www.thesteampunkempire.com/profile/DavidLeeSummers

SummersLightningWolves

While I’m mentioning steampunk books, the Tucson Steampunk Society Book Club is reading Lightning Wolves this month. They are meeting at Antigone Books at 411 N. 4th Avenue in Tucson at 3:30 pm tomorrow (Sunday, May 12). I will be there to discuss the book with the club members and perhaps prevent a few non-spoilery previews from The Brazen Shark. If you like steampunk books and live in Tucson, please drop by! I’m sure the club would love to have new members. They always have a great selection of steampunk books to read and discuss. I just wish my crazy schedule would allow me to drop in more often!

Walks Through the Cemetery – Part 3

David Lee Summers:

In part thee of my series on “Walks Through the Cemetery,” I find the marker for Billy the Kid’s defense attorney and uncover a mystery.

Originally posted on The Scarlet Order:

Last week, I discussed the man who shot Billy the Kid, who is buried in the cemetery behind my house. It turns out there’s a gravestone for the man who defended Billy the Kid at his trial as well. Fountain This one’s an interesting gravestone in that no one is actually buried under it. Albert Fountain and his son disappeared in 1896 and to this day, no one knows what happened to them.

Albert Fountain’s career started during the Civil War, when he was a sergeant in the Union Army’s California Column, which took New Mexico back from the confederacy in 1862. After the war, he moved to El Paso, Texas and became a Republican politician at a time when it was not popular to be a Republican in Texas. He served in the Texas State Senate and served as Lieutenant Governor for a time. His views angered many Texas Democrats…

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