Upcoming Solar Sail Missions

Last week, the Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 mission celebrated the one-year anniversary of its launch date. The project has made great strides in demonstrating that solar sails are a practical method of propulsion. LightSail 2 was able to raise its orbit using sunlight as the only source of propulsion. The craft can be steered using momentum wheels so it can maximize the light received when moving away from the sun and minimize the light received when going toward the sun. It also set the record for the highest acceleration achieved by a solar sail to date.

LightSail 2 Over Australia. Image by The Planetary Society

As it turns out, the LightSail 2 mission hasn’t been completely trouble free. Two of the solar panels it uses to energize its momentum wheels and power systems like the onboard camera did not deploy correctly and are in a tipped position, so they don’t receive sunlight equally. This is seen in the shadow on the sail in the above image. Also, one of the sail booms appears to be bent. You can see what appears to be a gap in the left hand part of the sail and a structure visible through the gap. My takeaway is that despite these issues, LightSail 2 has done remarkably well.

I was pleased to learn that NASA has an upcoming solar sail mission and it’s investigating another one. The upcoming mission is the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout Mission or NEA Scout. Like LightSail 2, it will be a small solar sail deploying from a CubeSat. It’s currently scheduled for 2021 and the plan is for the craft to visit the asteroid 1991 VG. The larger goal of the mission is to better understand the larger Near Earth Asteroids that might be a threat to life on Earth. Another goal of this mission is to show that solar sails can be used to send scientific payloads to objects at low cost compared to craft that burn conventional fuel. This would be a somewhat larger solar sail than LightSail 2’s 32 square meter area. NEA Scout would deploy a 68 square meter solar sail. In the image below, we see the NEA Scout sail deployed in the lab along with some of the people working on it, to give an idea of the scale.

NEA Scout sail deployed. Image by NASA.

Another mission being considered is NASA’s Solar Cruiser. This would be a 1200 square meter solar sail used to provide views of the sun not easily available with current technology. It would measure the Sun’s magnetic field structure and the velocity of coronal mass ejections which at times can interfere with utility grids on Earth. This craft could be very useful as an advance warning system for at-risk infrastructure on Earth.

The Solar Sea

It’s exciting to see solar sails being scaled up into new projects. There have even been discussions of using solar sails for interstellar missions. A rocket can never go faster than its exhaust velocity. However, a solar sail can continue to accelerate as long as it gets light on its sails. It’s not yet practical to build a solar sail to propel a payload big enough to carry humans, but I suspect if the technology keeps being developed, it will get there one day. This dream is what I captured in my novel The Solar Sea. If you would care to join me on an imaginary voyage through the solar system using one of these sails pushed by light, visit: http://davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html.

Greg Long in Australia recently posted a review of the novel, so I’m especially pleased to have shared the photo of LightSail 2 above. You can read Greg’s review at: https://greole.com/blog/2020/06/review-the-solar-sea-by-david-lee-summers-davidleesummers-sciencefiction/.

LightSail 2 – One Year After Launch

This past Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of LightSail 2’s launch into orbit. LightSail 2 is a crowdfunded solar sail project managed by the Planetary Society and it’s the first craft propelled entirely by sunlight. The Planetary Society hosted a webinar to celebrate the event. Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye, Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Vaughn, Program Manager Dave Spencer, and Project Manager Bruce Betts all spoke. The presentation was moderated by Planetary Radio host Mat Kaplan. I am pleased to have been one of the mission funders and I was delighted to have had an opportunity to attend the webinar live. I gather the presentation will be viewable soon at https://www.planetary.org/multimedia/planetary-tv/. I found the presentation fascinating and I took three pages of notes. I’ll touch on a few highlights below and in Tuesday’s blog post, but if you’re interested in this project, be sure to check out the full video at the link above. You can learn more about the Planetary Society by visiting http://www.planetary.org.

Screen shot of the live webinar featuring Bill Nye, Dave Spencer, Mat Kaplan, Jennifer Vaughn, and Bruce Betts

The most exciting news from the webinar is that LightSail 2 is still flying one year after launch. It was placed into an orbit about 720 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, which is still low enough to have a very small amount of atmospheric drag. Despite that, the spacecraft has only lost about 10 km of altitude over the course of a year. It’s not certain how long it will be before it de-orbits, but current estimates say LightSail 2 could continue its mission for another year.

Bill Nye opened the presentation by noting it was 17th century astronomer Johannes Kepler who first speculated on the possibility of solar sails after observing the comet that would ultimately be known as Comet Halley. He reasoned that whatever force from the sun could produce the comet’s tail could propel a sailing vessel to other planets. The specific particle that can be used to propel a solar sail is the humble photon. Light has momentum and that momentum can be transferred to the sail for motion.

LightSail 2 has been able to perform so well because it can be turned like a sailboat’s sail. In this case, the craft is turned by momentum wheels aboard the ship. Momentum wheels are just gyroscopes, but tradition suggests that the word “gyroscope” is used principally when applied to navigation. When LightSail 2 is in a position to get a boost from sunlight, it turns so the sail catches all the light. When the light pressure would work against the sail, the craft turns 90 degrees so it presents the sun with the least amount of surface to push against.

Many great photos were shared during the webinar. My favorite was this one showing LightSail 2 over the Nile and the Red Sea. As you’ll notice, there’s a thin blue line at the Earth’s left edge. That’s our atmosphere, which looks very thin and fragile. I also imagine measuring the spectrum of that thin film on a planet in some distant stellar system from a telescope in our solar system. It’s a real technical challenge, but it looks like we may be getting close to a point where we could do that. This is something we’ll need to do in order to determine whether or not an exoplanet is potentially habitable.

LightSail 2 over the Nile and Red Sea. Image from The Planetary Society.
The Solar Sea

One of the things that makes all of this personally exciting is that I first joined the Planetary Society when I was in high school as a result of a letter sent to Star Trek fan clubs by Gene Roddenberry. I first learned of the Society’s interest to make solar sails a reality in the society’s newsletter, The Planetary Report. The idea caught my imagination and in high school, I started to write a novel called The Solar Sea. I didn’t complete it then, but the idea stayed with me and I made several attempts until I wrote a version that pleased me. That version was published in 2008 and you can learn more about it at: http://davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

The Astronomer’s Crypt 2nd Edition Now Available

This has been an eventful week. I spent the early part working on a draft plan for reopening Kitt Peak National Observatory during the COVID-19 pandemic. I think the team involved came up with a good, detailed plan. It came in at 13,000 words, the length of a novella! While doing this, I’ve been listening to the news of the death of George Floyd and protests associated with this terrible event. There should be no question that black lives matter and black voices need to be heard.

While all of this was going on, the second edition of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt was released. This edition features a new cover, new formatting, plus my wife and I have gone over the new edition with a fine-toothed comb and cleaned up many typographical errors. I won’t guarantee we got them all, but this version should be an improvement over the previous edition. What’s more, it’s a little less expensive than the previous edition. So, if you haven’t yet, this is a great time to open the crypt and see what lurks within.

The story begins two years before the novel’s main events on a stormy night, in the dead of winter. On that night, Mike Teter experienced something that would change his life forever. Mike was a telescope operator at the world renowned Carson Peak Observatory in New Mexico. That night, he saw something and experienced events so terrible they would drive him to leave his job, haunted by terrible visions. Despite those events, Mike is called back to Carson Peak and the vision he had two years before becomes a reality as ghosts, gangsters and an Apache spirit from the dawn of time collide during a terrible storm. The novel is strongly inspired by my years working at observatories in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. What’s more, Mike’s vision in the novel is very close to something that happened to me several years ago at the WIYN telescope. Fortunately, my story didn’t have the tragic consequences of Mike’s tale. If you want to read the prologue, you can for free at: http://davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt-Preview.html

In July 2017, Chris Wozny wrote a review of the novel for The Nameless Zine, which is the online newsletter of the Western Science Fiction Association. She said, “In the best tradition of horror fiction, we have courageous protagonists, characters who cross the line of good and evil in both directions, unspeakable evil from a forgotten age, and a villain behind the scenes who is attempting to bring back dark powers in the (no doubt mistaken) belief that he can control them … Strongly recommended to all who enjoy Stephen King’s novels.” You can read the entire review at: http://www.westernsfa.org/Book_Nook/Books-2017/Astronomers_Crypt.php

You can buy the print edition at Amazon.com.

You can buy the ebook edition at either Amazon.com or Smashwords.com.

The Astronomer’s Crypt – 2nd Edition Cover Reveal

Next month, the rights to my novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt, revert to me. One of my jobs this month has been preparing a new edition so its ready to launch as soon as I’m clear to do so. Overall, I was happy with the novel’s first edition and my updated edit has changed very little. I caught a handful of typos that were missed the first time. I’m not sure I believe it’s possible for a truly typo-free book to exist. Also, the editorial process on any book is a discussion between the writer and the editorial team. As the author, I find I agree with many editorial suggestions wholeheartedly. There are, of course, a few editorial suggestions that just don’t work for me and I ask to leave the section as written, or I come up with an alternative revision. There are also places where an editor makes a suggestion and while I don’t agree with it 100%, I still accept it, because I don’t disagree with it or don’t feel it substantially changes things. I’ve revisited a few of those moments in the book.

The bigger change will be the cover itself. Laura Givens who did the original cover is back to do the new take. The concept for the original cover was to present an observatory enclosure on a dark, spooky night like a haunted house. The potential problem with this concept is that unless you’re familiar with observatory enclosures, you might not know what you’re looking at. In fact, tall observatory buildings bear a close resemblance to silos. So when Laura took on the new edition, she wanted to better capture what most people think of when they think “observatory” and that’s the telescope inside. We also discussed it and decided to include one of the monsters from the book. In this case, it’s a creature from Mescalero Apache lore known as Big Owl, or He Who Kills With His Eyes.

One of the challenges of including the monster on this version of the cover is that in contemporary American society, we tend to picture owls as cute or friendly. However, in many Native American traditions, owls are harbingers of death and to the Mescalero Apache, Big Owl was considered an adversary to the first humans. To get to the idea of a scary owl in the novel, I used the idea that modern birds are the descendants of dinosaurs and I began to picture a primordial, dangerous, predatory owl. I think Laura did a great job of capturing that vision on the cover.

Of course, Big Owl isn’t the only threat you’ll meet in this novel. There are drug dealers, ghosts, and a destructive storm as well. The first edition of The Astronomer’s Crypt will still be available for two more weeks. If you want to get your hands on that edition, do it now. Otherwise, I hope to release the new edition of The Astronomer’s Crypt in June.

You can learn more about the novel, watch the book trailer, and read the prologue at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html

Interviewed by Greg Ballan

In my last post, I shared an interview I conducted with Hadrosaur Productions author Greg Ballan. During that same conversation, we turned the tables and he interviewed me. We discussed my writing along with the history and future of Hadrosaur Productions. The first book of mine he read was Heirs of the New Earth. In the current scheme of my series, it’s the fourth novel of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. He jumped right in at the end, but still seemed to enjoy the read.

As with my last interview series, we recorded our conversation and I have posted it to YouTube. the questions and answers are organized in small, related blocks. If you don’t have time to watch the entire 45-minute conversation, you can listen to those parts that interest you the most.

As the interview starts, Greg discusses Heirs of the New Earth. He notes that it shows a hopeful, advanced society, but not a perfect one. Earth is still polluted and humans are still tempted by totalitarian regimes. He asks me what I think the future of the Earth will be like.

In the second video, Greg asks me what led me to move from being a writer to being an editor and publisher. As I tell him in the response, these decisions were not disconnected.

In the third video, Greg and I discuss the future of Hadrosaur Productions. In that context, we also discuss the future of bookstores. If bookstores go away, we consider what that will mean for the future of ebooks and print books.

From here, the conversation returns to my writing and Greg asks what spurs my creativity. In a twist from the usual plotter vrs. pantser question, he asks whether I’m an architect or a gardener.

From here, Greg asked me what was the one incident that actually made me want to write books. For me, it was more of a process that happened throughout my youth.

In this next video, Greg asks me to share my greatest personal accomplishment along with my greatest setback. Of course, a bad setback is really a way for us to learn and I tell how others helped me through that difficult time and how the work I did at that time helped me turn that setback into a success.

In the next video, I discuss a favorite book and a favorite movie. Greg also asks me what one piece of advice I would give to a new writer.

Greg saves his hardest hitting question for last. He asks me whether I prefer Marvel or DC comics. I have to say, it’s tough, because both companies produce titles I love, but you can learn about one of my very favorites by watching the video.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these insights into my writing and editing life, even if you just watched one or two of the videos. You can learn more about my writing at http://www.davidleesummers.com

You can learn more about Hadrosaur Productions at http://www.hadrosaur.com

Radio Interviews

One of the difficult things about the current COVID-19 crisis has been the cancellation or postponing of events all around the country. Last weekend, I had been scheduled to attend El Paso Comic Con. Hopefully, circumstances will allow me to make the rescheduled event in October. These events are vitally important to independent authors and publishers. They’re my opportunity to meet you face to face and talk to you about the books I’ve written and those written by others that I’ve felt passionate enough about to publish.

A little over a week ago, I made a pleasant discovery. Here at the web journal, I’ve promoted interviews I’ve done on Lynn Moorer’s show, “All About Books” at Las Cruces Community Radio Station KTAL-LP 101.5 FM. Thanks to the internet, you didn’t have to be in Las Cruces to hear these shows, you could stream them as they aired. Unfortunately, you did have to listen to them at the time they aired. I have now discovered that Radio Que Tal has archived many of its shows and you can now listen to two of my interviews at your leisure. Lynn asks me about the books and has me give a couple of readings. It may not be quite as good as meeting me face to face at a convention, but it will give you a taste and best of all, you can listen on your schedule!

The older interview featured on line is for my steampunk novel Owl Riders. This novel is the fourth in my Clockwork Legion steampunk series, but it’s set about a decade after the other books in the series, so it stands very much alone. Taking place in 1885 with protagonists Fatemeh and Ramon Morales settled in New Orleans, Ramon, now a U. S. Assistant Attorney, is called upon to settle a dispute between the Chiracahua Apache and the U. S. Army over a sliver of land in southern Arizona.  Healer and pharmacist Fatemeh is kidnapped by Hamid Farzan, a Persian merchant to whom she was originally betrothed.  Fatemeh’s and Ramon’s daughter Alethea uses her intelligence and resourcefulness to help rescue her mother. You can listen to the interview at: http://www.lccommunityradio.org/archives/all-about-books-david-lee-summers

In October, Lynn spoke with me about my science fiction adventure, The Solar Sea, the first in a series, about a solar sail ship, the Aristarchus, which travels to Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, battling hazards in space amidst conflict among crew members.  As the fascinating story develops, readers learn how whales and their songs fit into the universe and into the hierarchy of beings. You can listen to this interview at: http://www.lccommunityradio.org/archives/all-about-books-david-lee-summers-author-of-the-solar-sea

I’ll be visiting with Lynn next month to talk about the next book in this universe, Firebrandt’s Legacy. That interview is scheduled for May 22 at 12:30pm Mountain Daylight Time. Hopefully I’ll be able to share an archive link soon after the interview airs, but you can mark your calendars and listen live at: http://www.lccommunityradio.org/listen.html

Another thing I’m pleased to announce is that my website http://www.davidleesummers.com now lives on a devoted web server. Until about a week ago, I relied on web forwarding from the name registrar to point to my site at the internet service provider. Unfortunately, the forwarding wasn’t very reliable and there were times it just didn’t work, making it look like my website was down. Links to my site throughout the web journal should work much better now.

Documentation

Kitt Peak National Observatory is one of many large observatories around the world shut down in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, I was part of a skeleton crew scheduled to be on site making sure there were no problems with site infrastructure during the shutdown. However, management decided to reduce that crew, pulling our team from the rotation for the time being. So my main job at the moment is working on telescope documentation from home.

This is an important job. Four years ago, the control system at the Mayall 4-meter went through a major hardware and software upgrade in preparation for the Dark Energy Survey Instrument (DESI) that we’re now using. Those of us who operate the telescope learned how to do things on the fly before the telescope was shutdown for the actual DESI upgrade. During that period, the programmers and engineers who did the control system upgrade were, of course, occupied installing DESI and making it work. The upshot is that it’s now time to actually document how the new control system works.

As it turns out, a lot of the basic “how do you make the telescope go” level of documentation is already complete. That’s stuff I was able to do before and during the DESI upgrade. The stuff I’m working on now is more “under the hood” level documentation. For example, the image above shows two sets of coordinates: Target and Sky. Both are the same in the picture. The kind of information I need from a programmer is what does he mean when he refers to the “Target” coordinates and what does he mean when he refers to the “Sky” coordinates. It turns out, the two should only be different if you know the telescope is slewing from one target to another, or the servos are turned off and the telescope is not tracking the sky.

The other day, I shared a news article about the closure of observatories on social media. I received a lot of surprise from people. Observatories are, after all, remote places and you’d think they’re about as “socially distant” a place to be as possible. In fact, on my last night of observing, I shared a control room with an observer from the UK and one from Mexico and we even joked about that a little. Look back at the previous sentence, though, and you actually see part of the problem. Large observatories attract observers and tourists from all around the world. We may not have a lot of people on site, but they are people who have traveled far to get there, possibly exposing themselves to the virus on the way.

Even if we closed down to just remote operations where only local people were allowed at the observatory, we’d still have a problem. If something breaks, you often need a team of engineers and technicians to get it operating again. You could imagine allowing the observatory to run until something breaks, and then just leaving it at that point until someone could fix it. The problem with this scenario becomes clear if you imagine a situation where the broken mechanism is the dome shutter and rain is approaching, which could, in turn, damage the telescope and instrumentation.

Fortunately, even though many large telescopes are shut down, many smaller facilities are still operating and monitoring the skies for “transient” objects like asteroids and supernovae. Science is still happening. It’s not quite full stop as far as monitoring the skies. Many of these smaller facilities only require one or two people on site to fix problems. So there’s much less danger in this case.

Related to my job at the observatory, I heard an interesting statement from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US Infectious Disease Specialist. In an interview with CNN, he said, “What we’re seeing right now are some favorable signs. It’s looking like that in many cases particularly in New York we’re starting to see a flattening and turning around. We would want to see … I would want to see a clear indication that you are very very clearly and strongly going in the right direction.” What really struck me in this description of early signs the COVID-19 pandemic may be improving is how much it reminded me of how I describe safe conditions to open the telescope for observing after bad weather has closed us down. Let’s say humidity or wind are too high for the telescope to be open safely. We have officially stated limits for when we can open, but sometimes I don’t open right at those limits and I give an explanation similar to Dr. Fauci’s. It’s all too easy for wind or humidity to have a momentary downward blip, then come up again right away. We want to see a clear indication that conditions are improving. Let’s hope the pandemic turns around soon and we get the clear, strong indications that we’re moving in the right direction.

Explore New Worlds from Home

In my last post, I mentioned how fortunate I am to have a fairly secure income during this difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are finding themselves unemployed or under employed. Fortunate as I am, it’s likely our family will also be affected by current events. I’m waiting to hear whether events I attend to promote my writing will be going forward. If not, this could result in a loss of sales for my books. What’s more, my wife performs bookkeeping duties for many small service-industry businesses. So far, these businesses have continued to operate, but some have had to limit their operations and depending on how long we’re asked to practice social distancing, may have to shut down for a time.

This crisis also comes at a time when my youngest daughter is preparing to graduate from high school and go to university. She’s been busy working on assignments at home, but we have had to defer a visit to her future school because of current events.

So far, my writing and editing work is keeping me busy, but I know this enforced period of isolation is hard on many people. That’s one of the reasons I’m participating in the “Authors Give Back” event at Smashwords. On Saturday, I shared two books I’m giving away for free. Because I do have family responsibilities, I can’t afford to give away all of my books, but I can offer deep discounts on two additional titles and give you a chance to explore the solar system and the galaxy in the process.

The first book I’m offering at 60% off the cover price is my novel The Solar Sea. In the novel, whales around the world changed their songs the day scientists announced the discovery of powerful new particles around Saturn’s largest moon which could solve Earth’s energy needs. The Quinn Corporation rushes to build a solar sail space craft to unlock the secrets of these strange new particles. They gather the best and brightest to pilot the ship: Jonathan Jefferson, an aging astronaut known as the last man on Mars; Natalie Freeman, a distinguished Navy captain; Myra Lee, a biologist who believes the whales are communicating with Saturn; and John O’Connell, the technician who first discovered the particles. Charting the course is the mysterious Pilot who seems determined to keep secrets from the rest of the crew. Together they make a grand tour of the solar system and discover not only wonders but dangers beyond their imagination.

In the novel, I use my experience as a professional astronomer to bring the solar system to life for the readers. You can get The Solar Sea for 60% off the cover price at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/805692

The second book I’m offering at a discount is Firebrandt’s Legacy. In this book, Ellison Firebrandt fights the good fight for Earth. Under a letter of marque, he raids the ships of Earth’s opponents, slowing down their progress and ability to compete with the home system. On the planet Epsilon Indi 2, he rescues a woman named Suki Mori from a drug lord, only to find she isn’t so happy about living a pirate’s life. However, when the captain finds a new engine that will make him the most successful pirate of all, Suki is the only one who can make it work. Now Firebrandt must find a way to keep his crew fed and his ship supplied while relying on a woman who barely trusts him and while every government in the galaxy hunts him to get the engine back!

This book sets the stage for The Pirates of Sufiro, which I’m working on right now, along with the rest of the Space Pirates’ Legacy series. In the opening chapter, Captain Firebrandt attacks a ship and discovers a whole cargo hold of … toilet paper. It’s just a small moment, but who knew that would be a thing? You can get Firebrandt’s Legacy for 60% off the cover price at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/916916

Authors Give Back

Word of shutdowns in the United States to curb the spread of Coronavirus came while I was on a shift at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Working on a remote mountaintop, it seems like we should have few concerns about the Coronavirus, but we also have visitors traveling there from all around the country and all around the world, both as tourists and as visiting scientists. Because of this, the decision was made to suspend science operations and make all the equipment safe so it could be monitored by a small, skeleton staff. The last night of my shift was the last night of regular operations. Fortunately, it was a very productive one for the DESI project. We had a nice clear night and gathered lots of good test data for the team to chew on while things are shut down.

As it turns out, because I’m an observing associate and one of the people trained to tell at a glance whether something is wrong or not, I’m part of the skeleton crew that will be rotating in to keep an eye on the facility during the shutdown period. I will likely also have some telecommuting work to do as well. In the meantime, I’m hard at work preparing Don Braden’s fine science fiction novel Upstart Mystique for release and hope to return my attention to my own novel The Pirates of Sufiro, so I can release that soon.

So far, the whole process of watching people around me go into self-isolation mode has felt a little surreal. Because the shutdown period at work happened right as I would normally start a break, little has actually changed about my personal schedule. I’m also fortunate that I can continue to work and will continue to be paid. I know a lot of people face an all too real income shortfall and many people are working to fill their time with something positive. Because of that, I am participating in the “Authors Give Back” event at Smashwords. Through the event, I’m sharing two of my ebooks absolutely free until April 20.

Revolution of Air and Rust is a stand-alone novella set in the Empires of Steam and Rust world created by Robert E. Vardeman and Stephen D. Sullivan.

Set in 1915, the American Expeditionary Force under the command of General “Black Jack” Pershing has invaded Northern Mexico. Pancho Villa leads his revolutionary army in a desperate raid against the American force only to be outflanked. Just as Pershing’s airships prepare to deliver the death blow, Pancho Villa is transported to a parallel Earth where he finds an unexpected ally and the technology that might just turn defeat into victory. This is a story filled with military action, espionage and gadgetry that’s sure to satisfy fans of steampunk and alternate history.

You can get Revolution of Air and Rust absolutely free at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/254622

The other giveaway I’m offering is my short story “The Slayers” which first appeared in Realms of Fantasy Magazine in 2001. Dragon bellies are full of powerful carbide that allows them to breathe fire. Dragon carbide is a valuable treasure. Rado is a young man who sails the winds in a flyer. He signs aboard a mighty dirigible called the Slayer to hunt dragons. However, he soon learns that Captain Obrey will not rest until he strips the teeth and carbide from a mighty gold dragon.

Since this was written, other people have done their own versions of Moby Dick with dragons, but as far as I know, mine is the original. You can download “The Slayers” for free at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/58303

A Weekend in the Wild West and an Interview

This past weekend, I attended Wild Wild West Con 9 held at Old Tucson Studios in Tucson, Arizona. This is my ninth time attending the event and I am the only author who has attended every single year the event has been held. It’s a great event and I saw many good friends from Arizona, California, Texas and beyond. As with most years, I ran a booth where I sold my books and was tempted by the wares of my neighboring vendors. In the photo, you see me sporting a new outfit I assembled at the convention. In addition to selling books, I spoke on several panels throughout the weekend on topics ranging from weird westerns to steampunk mysteries.

One of the more interesting panels this weekend was one entitled “Authors After Hours” which was held at the convention hotel on the first evening. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this panel, but we ended up delving into the deep dark secrets of the authors on the panel. As part of the panel, I discussed the genesis of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. As I told the audience, this was an easy novel in the sense that I knew the setting and the themes well, but it was a difficult novel to write because of peering into those dark corners of my mind. The challenge of writing the novel was so great that I really needed to write two novels after that, Owl Riders and Firebrandt’s Legacy, before I could feel ready to even consider starting the second novel in the Wilderness of the Dead series.

One popular event at Wild Wild West Con is tea dueling. This is an event where contestants dunk a cookie in a cup of tea and must be the last one to eat it cleanly before it crumbles into bits. Heaven forbid that the cookie should besmirch one’s beautiful outfit. As it turns out, my younger daughter, who has come to be called “The Cutosity” ended up being the grand champion tea dueler for the weekend. Madame Askew and the Grand Arbiter who host the tea dueling made a big show of how much she’ll be missed as she gets ready to leave for college. In the photo below, you can see The Cutosity getting ready to face down tough competition from the West Texas town of El Paso.

Seeing the amazing costumes people make is perhaps one of the major attractions of steampunk. I was impressed by the Victorian-inspired fantasy costumes many of my friends sported at the event. Below is a gallery that features just a sampling of their amazing handiwork.

Over the weekend, friends who couldn’t attend the event asked if anyone took video of panels I was on or recorded audio. I’m sorry to say, I don’t know of any recordings. However, back at Thanksgiving, Ben Ragunton and Keith Lane came up to Kitt Peak National Observatory on a blustery winter day and interviewed me. Their interview, which went live yesterday, actually covers many of the topics we discussed on panels at Wild Wild West Con. I encourage you to listen to it. Even more, I encourage you to subscribe to their podcast and learn about even more of the fine authors and creators they interview. You can find your favorite platform to listen to their interview with me by visiting: https://www.tggeeks.com/blog/2020/03/09/tg-geeks-webcast-episode-264/