Steampunk Art Fest and More Aliens With Tentacles

Today, I’ll be in El Paso, Texas for the Steampunk Art Fest, being held at Barmen Kitchen and Patio at 4130 N. Mesa from 2 until 9pm. Although work at Kitt Peak National Observatory will call me away, the fun will continue on Sunday from 4 until 9:30pm. There will be a fire show, live music, and a costume contest, plus steampunk artists. I will be there today and will have a selection of my books available and will be happy to chat with you!

This past week, I’ve been catching up with some 2016 films I missed. One of them was the fine science fiction film, Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. It tells the story of twelve mysterious alien spacecraft that land around the world. Every few hours, the aliens open the door and allow people in to talk to them. Adams plays a linguist attempting to understand their language while Renner plays a physicist.

The aliens in the film prove to be a fine example of aliens with tentacles, which I wrote about back in February. These creatures have seven legs and look like giant octopi or squids.

Another fascinating aspect of these aliens is that they don’t perceive time linearly like humans do. This leads the characters to ask whether they would make the same choices if they knew the future as they would if they didn’t. I don’t want to give away too many specifics because that risks spoiling the movie’s central mystery. However, it struck me that these aliens are not unlike the character Legion in my Clockwork Legion novels.

Legion does see time linearly like humans, but he is a living consciousness transferred into a vast computational array with tremendous predictive abilities. Legion’s appearance on Earth helps to give rise to the steampunk alternate reality. In my case, I worked to avoid the deus ex machina kind of plot where Legion simply tells humans how to build advanced technology. Rather, I use Legion as a means to clear away all doubt. Humans design the machines and Legion tells them whether or not they’re possible. This in turn means the leaders of society are willing to fund those inventions ahead of their time. Of course, another aspect of Legion is that he doesn’t always make the best choices about which humans to talk to.

If you’d like to meet Legion, be sure to check out the novels at:
http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

The Wild West I Wished For

Today, I’m excited to be at the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. It’s a free event, so if you’re in the area, I hope you’ll drop by. I’m participating in two panels this weekend and will be available after both to sign books.

Last weekend, I was at Wild Wild West Con, at Old Tucson Studios where many classic westerns were filmed. When I grew up, my parents were big fans of westerns. My mom, in particular, was always delighted to find a good “shoot-em-up” on television during a Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, I wasn’t much of a fan of westerns, at least not at first. It wasn’t until I discovered TV series like The Wild Wild West and Kung Fu that westerns began to click for me. As a kid, I loved science fiction and the former mixed tropes I found familiar into the western backdrop, which helped me take notice. The latter took the clash of cultures that often happened in the west seriously and I could see similarities between that world and the multicultural world of Southern California I lived in at the time.

A lot of these elements come to life at Wild Wild West Con. The event started for me on Thursday night at opening ceremonies, where I got to catch up with some old friends from other steampunk conventions. The next morning, I drove out to Old Tucson Studios to unload books. This year, the authors were housed in the building where they filmed the exteriors for the show High Chaparral. Here you see my Smart Car parked out front!

One of the things I love about steampunk conventions is getting to see the wonderful things people have built for costume or display. This year, outside of High Chaparral, was a display of steampunk vehicles. I thought this one could almost be a reinterpretation of Larissa Crimson’s invention from Lightning Wolves, or an evolved version of the vehicle.

The person who built this amazing vehicle is David Lee, principal artist of Hatton Cross Steampunk. He’s also the man behind the mask of Steampunk Darth Vader in the short films Trial of the Mask and Mask of Vengeance. Perhaps it’s not surprising that every now and then people confuse the two of us in correspondence. So it was a pleasure to finally meet David Lee and I was delighted to find him a pleasant person, as many people in the steampunk community prove to be.

In addition to meeting Steampunk Darth Vader, I also had the opportunity to meet Sam Jones, who played Flash Gordon in the campy 1980 movie. I also enjoyed meeting the creators of the comic book Proteus about steampunk fish people who live in the sunken Atlantis. The creators are all cosplayers and came dressed as their characters.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about steampunk is how it sometimes imagines a more civilized version of Victorian and Wild West times. One of the ways that manifests is through the sport of tea dueling. In a tea duel, participants dunk a cookie in a cup of hot tea for a set amount of time. The last one to eat the cookie without it falling apart and soiling their clothes is the winner. At many steampunk events the masters of ceremonies are Madame Askew and the Grand Arbiter. Here we see them with my daughter who is a tea dueling contestant. Not only was my daughter a contestant, she proved to be Wild Wild West Con’s tea dueling champion!

One of my goals as a writer is to inspire the imagination of people who play in steampunk worlds. What’s more, going to steampunk events helps to inspire my creativity. Wild Wild West Con came at the perfect time as I’m moving into the middle portion of my new novel Owl Riders. For me, that’s right about the point I need a little boost to keep the energy flowing. Right after Wild Wild West Con, I learned that my first steampunk novel was released as an audio book, narrated by Edward Mittelstedt. The book is available for download at Audible.com. If you’re a fan of audio books, I do hope you’ll join me for a journey into the wild west I wished for.

A Restful(?) Week

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I have quite a few projects lined up for this year. Also, by “luck” of the draw, I had to drive to work at Kitt Peak National Observatory on Christmas Day and stay through New Years morning. So, I decided to take this first week of the new year as a low-pressure week to unwind from the stress of the holidays before jumping into new projects.

One of my Christmas presents this year was a model of the spaceship Bentenmaru from the anime Bodacious Space Pirates (Click on the title to see my discussion of the series). My wife included a copy of the movie based on the series, Abyss of Hyperspace. The movie was pretty good. It’s essentially an extended episode of the series and doesn’t add much to the bigger story arcs. Still, it was great to see Pirate Captain Marika Kato, the crew of the Bentenmaru, and the Hakuoh Academy Yacht Club back in action.

bentenmaru-box

The model itself was an import from Japan made by Hasegawa Hobby Kits. I’ve had fun building other anime space ship models from Japan. Most of those were Bandai kits. As with the Bandai kits I’ve built, the actual assembly of the model was smooth and the model includes lots of detail. Unlike the Bandai kits I’ve assembled, this one came with a generous sheet of decals. This is where my week of fun and pleasant diversion morphed into challenging learning experience.

Now as someone who has enjoyed building models since I was in elementary school, I’m no stranger to water-slide decals. So, I didn’t think I needed instructions for applying them—useful since the instructions that came with the kit were in Japanese. However, as I began to apply the decals, I discovered that they were both a bit thicker than the American decals I’ve used and seemed to have less glue. The result was that I found them a challenge to stay in place and several started to peel up again as they dried, instead of remaining stuck to the model!

I ended up going out to the internet to find methods for rescuing the decals. I found one site that recommended sticking them down with a little watered-down white glue. This worked for a few of the smaller decals. I was able to rescue a few of the decals by applying a tiny drop of superglue underneath with a toothpick and pressing the decal back down. The biggest decal was on the base—the series logo. That one went down easily and seemed to stick well, but as it dried, its edges seemed to lift up. My attempt to rescue it led to the worst disaster of all. One forum I read suggested sealing the edges with clear nail polish. I’m sorry to say, clear nail polish melted these decals. Fortunately, I’d only tried on a small area and only did a little damage that I was able to touch up with some paint.

Eventually, I found my way to a forum for Gundam models, another Japanese hobby company focusing on mecha. Their video for decal application suggested that I was applying the decals correctly, but that I should also use a clear liquid called decal set after applying them. I’ve been aware of decal set, but I have never found it all that necessary on the American models I made. I picked up a small bottle and tried it on the last couple of decals on the Bentenmaru and they did indeed seem to stick down better than the ones applied without decal set. In the end, I’m pretty happy with the results, though I’m a little concerned that the model won’t age well if decals peel up and fall off.

bentenmaru

If anyone reading this has built Hasegawa models with decals, I’d be interested in any tips you have. If the model doesn’t hold up to time, I may attempt it again. If so, I want to go in with as much knowledge as possible!

Because of the decals, the model took a lot longer than I expected and wasn’t really as restful as I hoped. Even so, it did clear my mind and gave me a change of pace for a few days before leaping into new projects. As writers, we’re often told we have to write every day and apply every waking hour we’re not writing to marketing our books. I think it’s important for writers to step back from that and realize that they’re self-employed business people. Everyone burns out if they don’t take a break once in a while. If you’re a writer, remember to be a good boss to yourself and give yourself some time to play—whether it’s some time relaxing on a beach, indulging in a hobby, or even taking a class. It’ll pay dividends in your efficiency, and who knows? You might have an experience which could be used in a future story.

Nostalgia

Back in January, when I wrote about Cowboy Bebop, I mentioned that I’ve been a fan of anime since watching Gigantor in the early 1970s. Johnny Sokko Out of curiosity, I looked up some information about the series and its creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama. It turns out that Yokoyama basically invented stories about giant mecha, which have practically become their own genre within anime. Yokoyama also created another series which I remember fondly from my childhood, which was known in the United States as Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot.

This latter series was actually live action and told the story of a boy named Johnny Sokko who commanded a nine-story tall robot, decked out like an Egyptian Pharaoh, but commanding an arsenal of amazing weapons. Johnny’s remote control was a special wrist watch, tailor-made for playground imitation, and he helped secret agents battle an evil organization known as the Gargoyle Gang. I remember this series as one of the coolest things I ever saw as a kid. I always felt a little sorry for Johnny Sokko because he had to wear a tie, but I’d wear a tie, too, if I had a giant robot to command. In my research, I discovered that episodes of Johnny Sokko are available through some streaming services and I downloaded one. I expected it to be cheezy fun and I wasn’t disappointed, but I had to work to see the cool I did as a kid.

In the 1990s, Japan’s anime creators went through a phase of remaking the classic series that inspired them. Yasuhiro Imagawa planned to remake Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot as an anime, but only got the rights to use the giant robot and Daisaku Kusama—the kid known to us in the United States as Johnny Sokko. That’s a little like getting the rights to remake Star Trek but only getting to use the Starship Enterprise and Captain Kirk. There’s no Spock, no Uhura, no Klingons, no Federation. Yeah, you could make something that looked like Star Trek, but it wouldn’t have all the magic fans remember. Imagawa, though, had a flash of inspiration. He found he could get the rights to use characters from all of Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s other manga series.

The upshot was Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still. Giant_Robo_-_The_Animation Set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk-inspired world, it tells how the evil organization called Big Fire tries to gain control of the world’s energy resources. Standing in their way are the Experts of Justice, a group of superheroes from Yokoyama’s manga teamed up with Daisaku Kusama and Giant Robo. It features amazing music performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and choir and it took six years to produce the seven episodes of the series. I hunted down a copy both to see what the result was like and I was also intrigued by the fact that the director shared a surname with the antagonist of my novel The Brazen Shark. As it turns out, my almost 50-year-old self sees it as being almost as cool and my 8-year-old self found the original. This is a remake done right!

In this age of easy self-publishing, it’s actually fairly easy for an author to revise and release new editions of their work if they hold all the publishing rights. Given how well Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot was re-imagined into Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, I completely understand how an author can look back at their work, see improvements, make them and release new editions. However, I do advise some caution in this. For a great example of why, look no further than George Lucas and his re-issues of Star Wars. Although Lucas has made his special effects look nicer than he could in the 1970s, he’s also angered a lot of fans by tinkering with a movie they loved and adding elements they didn’t find necessary. Over twenty years passed before a remake of Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot was attempted and even then, it was under the helm of a new, albeit reverent, creator.

I look back at my earliest novels such as The Pirates of Sufiro and Children of the Old Stars and see plenty of things I’d change if I wrote those novels today. Despite that, I know there are readers who find plenty to love in those novels and I’d want to be careful to enhance and make better, while not taking away those elements readers find charming.

So, are there any examples of remakes or re-imagined movies, television series, or books that you thought were especially well done? What made the remake work for you?

Victorian-Inspired Fantasia

This past week, I’ve been focused on revising my novel The Brazen Shark based on notes sent to me by me editor. My goal has been to tighten the novel in places, show not tell in others, and generally work to make the prose paint the pictures I want it to paint. This novel makes a break from the wild west setting of Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves. I’ve been having a great time making a trans-Pacific airship voyage with Captain Cisneros, and having Samurai Imagawa Masako match wits with the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. I even wander the streets of Meiji-era Tokyo with our heroes Ramon and Fatemeh.

OldPhotoKyobashi

There’s a definition of punk rock over at urbandictionary.com that essentially reads as follows: One fellow asks another, “What is punk?” The second fellow kicks over a garbage can and says, “That’s punk!” So the first fellow kicks over the garbage can and says, “So, that’s punk?” To which, the first guy responds, “No, that’s trendy.”

Moving the action in my series from the western U.S. to Asia is one way I kick down my own garbage can. Hopefully it helps to put a new layer of “punk” in my “wild west steampunk.”

With that in mind, I came across a discussion this week about the definition of steampunk. The problem is that steampunk often gets the off-handed definition of “Victorian science fiction.” Well, some steampunk certainly is Victorian science fiction. It’s also true that for many readers, “science fiction” encompasses anything even remotely fantastical from paranormal horror to stories of space travel to stories of crossing over to the realm of faerie. And, the thing is, I’ve seen steampunk stories that would encompass all of those.

Another problem with calling steampunk “Victorian science fiction” is that it doesn’t do justice to how broad steampunk is. It’s not just a literary genre, but a music genre, a visual arts genre, even a lifestyle. Thinking about it, the phrase that popped to my mind is “Victorian-Inspired Fantasia.” Paraphrasing Merriam-Webster, a fantasia is a work in which the creator’s fancy roves unrestricted.

What I like about this definition is that it seems to cover all of the steampunk I can think of. It covers the diverse musical styles that steampunk bands play. It covers science fiction set in the Victorian age. It covers post-apocalyptic stories where people have returned to Victorian technology. It covers creative costumers who might start with some Victorian clothing and modify it, taking it in new and unusual directions. The definition also takes into account the punk element, because when you rove unrestricted, you’re liable to kick down a garbage can or two.

Have you heard or do you have a definition of steampunk that you particularly like? If so, feel free speak up in the comments.

Time for Yourself

This past week I finished the first complete draft of The Brazen Shark. I phrase that as “first complete” because I’m the kind of writer who does a lot of revision as I go, so it’s not exactly a “rough draft” or a true “first draft.” In fact almost everything but the last chapter has been through some level of revision. However you count it, reaching the end of new manuscript is something of a milestone, so I took a little time for myself this week. I’m a fan of anime and I love to build models. Recently, I found a model of Captain Harlock’s ship, the Arcadia on eBay. I spent a couple days this last week building the model, shown next to the Starship Enterprise.

Arcadia and Enterprise

As an aside, I show these two side-by-side because they are, according to their manufacturers, almost to scale with each other. So, if you ever wondered how big Captain Harlock’s ship was compared to Captain Kirk’s, you now have a pretty good idea. I also find myself wondering what might have happened if Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi had encountered Captain Harlock and Mimay in that cantina in Mos Eisley instead of Han and Chewbacca.

Returning to the topic at hand, the point I want to make is that I think it’s important for writers to take some time and just play. Now your play and mine may be different. I like building models. You might like playing golf or a favorite musical instrument. You might like gardening or watching movies. It doesn’t really matter what you do, these things give your mind a necessary respite before moving on to the next project.

I have a short story I need to write and I have at least one, possibly two more revision passes to go on the novel before I turn it in. However, if I went straight into those things, I know I wouldn’t be effective. I’d slog through and I might get the job done, but I wouldn’t be happy with it.

I also recognize that there’s a lot of pressure to spend time on social media, market your books, write new stuff, and possibly have a day job. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem like anyone is going to give you the time you need to have a break. In short, no one is going to give you that time. You’re going to have to have the discipline to make that time. In much the same way that your recreation may be very different from mine, the time you take may be very different. I took a couple day block after several intensive work days. Others might take an hour a day. Still others might plan half a day a week. Different strategies work for different people. Find a strategy that works for you.

I will note that after a couple of quiet days not thinking about writing, I almost couldn’t stop ideas flowing on that short story I need to write. That’s what I’ll be working on later today. Then, with that little bit of space, I’ll definitely be ready to tackle those revisions, which means, hopefully, book 3 of the Clockwork Legion will be available to you soon! In the meantime, the first two novels, Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves are available right now. Just follow the links to learn more.

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.