Back in 2012, after the release of my novel Owl Dance and while I was still in the early planning stages of the sequel, Lightning Wolves, author Robert E. Vardeman asked if I would like to contribute a novella to a series he was assembling. The series was called “The Empires of Steam and Rust” and it was set in an alternate 1915. Queen Victoria was still on the throne and growing younger. Teddy Roosevelt was still president of the United States and growing an empire. The Russian Revolution had failed and the Czar was still in power. The Meiji Restoration had not happened and there were still samurai in Japan. Bob had already written a novella in the series about an adventurer and an aeronaut who travel into a world where all metals have turned to rust. The novella also featured Albert Einstein’s scheming brother, Ernst, as an antagonist. Stephen D. Sullivan had written a novella set in the Russia of this world.
While seeking inspiration for a story, I happened on a photo of Pancho Villa in a pith helmet dated March 1916. At that moment, I knew I needed to write the story of the Mexican Revolution as it happened in this world. Bob had provided a detailed bible for this world. One notable aspect of the world was that while airships existed, airplanes had not yet been invented. What’s more, the American Expeditionary Force’s real life incursion into Mexico in 1915 was the first American military action to utilize airplanes. That gave me the story. What if the Americans had airships, but Pancho Villa discovered airplanes in another world and brought them to his?
While researching this story, author Jeffrey J. Mariotte invited me to participate in an author event being held in Douglas, Arizona at the Gadsden Hotel. Douglas sits right on the Mexican border and Pancho Villa had been a guest at the hotel along with General John J. Pershing. In fact, the two dined together at the hotel restaurant. The Gadsden Hotel is one of the biggest buildings in town. You can’t miss it and I decided I should find a way to use it in the story.
The hotel has a beautiful lobby where I set some of the novel’s action.
That amazing, marble staircase in the center of the photo has two chips in it. There’s a story that the chips came about because Pancho Villa rode his horse up the staircase. Again, that was a real life event too good not to use. I have a scene where Pancho Villa rides full tilt at the hotel, hollers to open the door and rides right into the lobby and up the stairs to wake his men. In the photo below, my daughters and I are sitting on the steps by the chips said to have been made by Villa’s horse. The chips are right by my feet.
Of course, while I was in the area, I also drove around some of the surrounding countryside. This was a story about Pancho Villa and air power. He had to hide his plane somewhere. I found the washes around had lot of growth and would provide good cover for whatever Villa planned to do from his headquarters in Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Mexico.
The Tucson Steampunk Society’s virtual book club has chosen Revolution of Air and Rust to be their selection this month. They will be discussing the book from 4:30-5:30 Mountain Standard Time (Remember, Arizona does not switch to Daylight Savings Time, so that’s 5:30-6:30pm if you’re on Daylight time) on Sunday, October 18. I’ll be on hand to discuss the book as well! You can get more information about how to join the discussion at the event’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/671206483480544
You can learn more about the book and find all the places it’s available by visiting http://davidleesummers.com/Air-and-Rust.html. There are also links to all the other books in the Empires of Steam and Rust series if you want to continue your explorations of this world.