Election Day

Today is election day in the United States. I hope by now you have already voted if you’re legally entitled to do so. If you haven’t voted, I hope you’re able to get out and safely cast your ballot today.

I don’t spend much time here or on other social media networks talking politics. That’s not because I don’t think elections are important. Quite the contrary, I think they’re very important and I pay careful attention to what elected officials are doing from the local to national levels. One reason I don’t discuss politics much on social media is that as an employee of the national observatory, I’m asked to assure that there’s no implication that the observatory endorses my personal beliefs. Because I do spend time on the web as something of an unofficial ambassador for the national observatory, I feel I must be especially careful.

Another reason I don’t share much about my personal political beliefs on social media is that it’s far too easy for people to lash out with a knee-jerk response the minute they see something they disagree with. I’m generally happy to discuss politics with you face to face and have a thoughtful dialog. I’m less interested in a shouting match from the relative anonymity of a keyboard and screen where no one seriously considers the other person’s point of view.

I am also somewhat reluctant to share personal political beliefs online because I have encountered situations where I have shared an opinion about a particular political issue and someone immediately assumes they understand what I believe about everything. I think this is a symptom of the lock the Democratic and Republican parties have on American democracy.

At a theoretical level, I can understand how a strict two-party system could work well. First, imagine two parties who each hold the country’s well-being first and foremost in their hearts. Each of them brings solutions to issues they care about to the table. They discuss those issues and come up with a compromise that may not be perfect and may not even satisfy everyone, but moves things forward and, at least, improves things for everyone.

The problem is that a feedback loop has arisen. As a legislator, one states a position. If everyone understands that position is an ideal that may move toward a more moderate position, things are fine. However, when people feel betrayed by compromise, they expect legislators to fight tooth and nail to get exactly what they promised and no different. The legislators are then backed into a corner and don’t feel they can compromise.

Unfortunately, I don’t see a clear path out of this feedback loop, at least in the near future. While I think it would help to have a couple more parties in the mix to put more ideas on the table, I think the ultimate issue is that people have to realize that government’s job is not to give one set of people their way all the time. Government’s job is probably best stated in the preamble to the United States Constitution: “…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

At Kitt Peak National Observatory, we’ve just gone through annual job performance reviews. In a sense, elections are a performance review. We do not work for the president or our legislators. They work for us. As their managers, we need to keep in mind their job is not to do exactly what I tell them, or you tell them, or our neighbor down the street tells them. Their job is to do the best they can for all of us. Your job is to be a responsible manager and let them know how they’re doing by voting.

Virtual October

October has been a busy month filled with virtual events. I visited the Tucson Steampunk Society Book Club and discussed my novella Revolution of Air and Rust about a week ago. Then, I spent much of this past weekend attending and presenting panels for Denver’s MileHiCon. Like most events in 2020, it was held virtually. While many events I’ve attended have been free, this one had a paid membership option, which allowed attendees to interact with people live as panels were presented. In the case of pre-recorded panels, panelists were often available to answer questions on Discord or the MileHiCon website. My reading for MileHiCon was from my novella Revolution of Air and Rust. I read the chapter where Pancho Villa attempts to raid a United States military camp in Chihuahua, Mexico, but then finds himself transported to another world.

Now that you’ve seen the reading, you may be interested to watch the virtual book club meeting where we discuss the book. This video is hosted at Facebook, but you do not need to be logged into see it.

Although there was a paid membership option, MileHiCon has generously placed most of the panels and presentations online at YouTube, so you can watch them, as with my reading above. This gives you a unique opportunity to watch the panels even if you couldn’t attend them as they premiered. You can find the presentations and panels at YouTube’s MileHiCon 52 virtual channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5Jb4d-cTGK9VkHoAEhePjw/videos

Before the convention, I recorded a presentation about Kitt Peak’s NEID Spectrograph which will be used to look for Earthlike planets around sunlike stars. Of course, when I proposed this presentation back in the spring, I fully expected we would have been observing and would have had results to share. I didn’t expect that we would just now be getting ready to return to observations. Still, I give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the spectrograph, describe how it works, and share some of the interesting results from NASA’s TESS mission.

In addition to my presentation, I participated in a panel discussion about “The Year in Science” with Ka Chun Yu, Will McCarthy, Steve Wahl, and Courtney Willis. Most of us on the panel were physical scientists, with two of us being astronomers, so we started out with a heavy emphasis on astronomy, but Will McCarthy steered the discussion to the year’s COVID-19 pandemic and the effort taken to defeat it and how we’ve learned to work in this year.

I encourage you to go over to the MileHiCon YouTube channel and check out many of the other presentation. You’ll find readings by people like Connie Willis, David Boop, Carrie Vaughn, Walter Jon Williams, Carol Berg, and S.M. Stirling. You’ll find even more science panels and panels discussing science fiction and fantasy writing.

As it turns out, I wrapped up the weekend with a couple additional virtual events. I discovered that YouTube streamed a recording of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds over the weekend. I’m a fan of the album, but this was the first time I actually got to see the entire stage performance. Unfortunately, the performance was only available for a limited time and it’s been taken down, but I was glad for the opportunity to watch. Also, I attended a nice interview with Charlaine Harris conducted by Steven Foley of the Vampyre Library Book Club in New Orleans. This interview is still available, but you have to be a member of the club to watch. Fortunately, membership is free and you can join at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/663608917753704/. My novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order is the featured book at the club for November, so if you join now, you can participate in my interview at the end of next month.

Vampyre Library Book Club

I am honored that my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order has been picked to be the featured selection in November for the Vampyre Library Book Club hosted by Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. The club is hosted on Facebook and you can join at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/663608917753704. Throughout the month, I’ll be sharing some background about the novel in the Facebook group. On Sunday, November 29, Vampyre Librarian Steven Foley will interview me about the novel live and you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions. You’ll also be entered in a drawing to win some cool prizes.

In Vampires of the Scarlet Order, a new generation of vampires embarks on a quest to save humanity.

Opening a forgotten crypt during a military exercise, Dr. Jane Heckman is made a vampire and begins a journey to unlock the secret origins of her new kindred.

Elsewhere, solitary vampire Marcella DuBois emerges from the shadows and uncovers a government plot to create vampire-like super soldiers.

Daniel McKee, a vampire working as an astronomer, moves to a new town where he’s adopted by a family, only to have government agents strip those he loves away from him.

All three vampires discover the government is dabbling in technologies so advanced they’ll tap into realms and dimensions they don’t understand. To save humans and vampires alike, Jane, Marcella, and Daniel must seek out the legendary master vampire Desmond, Lord Draco and encourage him to resurrect his band of mercenaries, the Scarlet Order.

If you don’t have the book yet, Boutique du Vampyre has two very tempting offers to sink your teeth into. The first is a book bag which comes with a copy of Vampires of the Scarlet Order which includes a signed book plate, plus a copy of New Orleans Vampires History and Legend by Marita Woywod Crandle, a link to her short story, “The Paris of the South,” and a Boutique du Vampyre book bag. You can order this at: https://feelthebite.com/collections/vampire-library-books-for-sale/products/david-lee-summers-book-box-and-book-bag

Another tempting option, is to pick up a book box. The book box come with a signed copy of Vampires of the Scarlet Order, a Boutique du Vampyre book bag, an exclusive selection of goodies related to the storyline, and a link to the short story by Marita Woywod Crandle, The Paris of the South. You can get this at: https://feelthebite.com/collections/vampire-library-books-for-sale/products/david-lee-summers-book-box-and-book-bag?variant=36707114057896.

I am truly honored for my novel to be selected for the Vampyre Library Book Club. Previous novels that have been featured have included Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker, The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden, and Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris.

As for the giveaways, I can tell you that Boutique du Vampyre will have something fun and unique. I plan to give away a set of metal bookmarks. Each one features one of the characters from the novel plus a quote by them. These make great, permanent book marks to mark your favorite vampire novel. What’s more, my wife made one of her special crochet Nosferatus. If you’ve read the novel, you know that the movie Nosferatu was a major inspiration for me. You can see her Nosferatu in the image of me signing book plates for Boutique du Vampyre. So, what are you waiting for? Join the book club today! If you don’t have the novel yet, pick up a book bag or a book box and get reading.

Revisiting the Revolution

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 Gadsden in Douglas, Arizona

The hotel has a beautiful lobby where I set some of the novel’s action.

Lobby of the Hotel Gadsden

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.

Stairway at the Gadsden Hotel

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.

Can you see the hidden airplane?

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.

Buboni-Virtual Con 2020

This weekend, I had originally been scheduled to attend Bubonicon 52 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The convention has been postponed to 2021, but it presents a unique opportunity for people who couldn’t normally afford to travel to Albuquerque for a convention. You can attend Buboni-Virtual Con 2020 absolutely free just by visiting the Bubonicon Facebook Page or the Bubonicon YouTube Channel.

If you go to the links above between 10am and 7:30pm Mountain Daylight Time, you will find panel discussions, readings, a science talk, a short art demo, and a comic workshop. If you miss the opportunity to tune in live, you’ll still be able to watch the programming after its been archived on the pages. As you watch the events, you’ll encounter such folks as Becky Chambers, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Chaz Kemp, Connie Willis, Rebecca Roanhorse, S.M. Stirling, Jane Lindskold, Walter Jon Williams, and more!

During Buboni-Virtual Con, I participate in a panel discussion with Ian Tregillis, Dr. Cathy Plesko, and Courtney Willis called “Artificial Intelligence: Will Computers Take Over the World.” The panel will go live at 5pm MDT. As scientists move closer to achieving artificial intelligence, we discuss what’s next. We’ll discuss how real AI science compares to the depictions in movies, TVs and books. We consider whether AI could save the world or be its doom. What about Asimov’s Rules? In short, we discuss the future of artificial intelligence. We recorded this panel in advance. None of us were necessarily experts on the subject but we’ve all worked with robotic systems, machine learning algorithms and other real world AIs at different points in our careers. We talk about the difference between strong and weak AIs and even speculate about what it might take for an AI to cross the line into sentience. I hope you’ll join us today and comment on the video.

Now, if Bubonicon were happening in person, I’d likely be giving a reading at some point. As it turns out, eSpec Books has been hosting an online reading series to feature authors who haven’t been able to get out and about to conventions to show their wares. The first of my readings for the series is currently live. I read from my story “The Sun Worshiper” which appeared in eSpec’s anthology After Punk. The story imagines a Victorian mummy unwrapping party gone wrong. If you’re coming to this post in the middle of Buboni-Virtual Con and want to go catch the fine programming there, please do. This video will be waiting for you. It’s mostly audio, so it’s a good one to have on in the background while you’re doing other things as well.

Another thing that would be happening if this were an in-person convention is that I would have a table in Bubonicon’s Flea Market. Even though the Flea Market isn’t happening, you can still browse my wares at: http://www.hadrosaur.com and http://www.davidleesummers.com – in either event, you can browse at your leisure, read some samples and decide what you want. The only downside is that I can’t chat with you in person, but if you do have a question, feel free to drop it in the comments and I’ll chat with you there!

Perseverance in Space

Last Thursday, I woke up early to watch as NASA’s Mars 2020 mission was launched. The mission includes the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter drone. The mission’s main goal is to look for signs of ancient life on Mars and collect rock samples which may be returned to Earth.

The launch of the Mars 2020 Mission

The rocket launch itself couldn’t have been more perfect. The weather at the Florida launch site was beautiful and the rocket lifted off the pad, flying straight and true. In fact, it lifted off so quickly, I couldn’t snap the screenshot from my computer before it left the pad! The rover is scheduled to arrive at Mars early next year. It incorporates many design elements from the highly successful Curiosity rover. It also incorporates autonomous driving technology, so NASA engineers can give it a course and let it avoid obstacles using onboard computers. In fact, that’s part of the reason for the helicopter drone. The drone can fly over the surface and help Perseverance map its course over the Martian landscape.

The primary mission objective is to look for evidence that life existed at one time on Mars. There are on-board instruments for achieving this, including the SHERLOC spectrometer which can accomplish microscopic imaging and help search for organic compounds. Perseverance will also collect samples which could be returned to Earth by a future Mars mission. As emphasized when I met Dr. Harrison Schmidt last year, nothing allows for detailed analysis like having actual physical samples in a lab. One of the reasons we would like to know whether life ever existed on Mars is that it would give us a better sense for how easy it would be to find life elsewhere. What’s more, there are some theories that life on Earth actually started on Mars and that it came to Earth as the result of an asteroid collision. So, we could gain insight into our own origins.

I watched the launch as part of an event hosted by The Planetary Society and Space For Humanity. The Planetary Society’s CEO, Bill Nye spoke after the launch. One question I see raised when discussing space exploration is, “wouldn’t it be better to spend that money on problems here on Earth?” This seems especially prescient in the middle of a global pandemic. Of course, you physically can’t invest all the funds on Earth into one problem. That would utterly destroy the economy and leave people hungry and destitute. Nye noted, “All the money we spend on space, is spent on Earth.” Investing in space is paying the salaries of the engineers, scientists, and technicians who make this happen. It’s investing in the companies that build the parts for these craft and that money gets reinvested into the economy. What’s more we receive dividends in these investments such as new technologies that do make the world a better place to live. Those technologies may even help to develop and deliver vaccines.

David the Space Cowboy wants to know when it’s time to board!

Space for Humanity is a group who has a vision of giving as diverse a group of people the chance to experience traveling to space. I believe that’s a worthy goal. After all, we need the experience of many people from many backgrounds if we’re going to reach for the stars. One of the places where we may succeed in getting to space in the near future is from Space Port America, just north of where I live in Las Cruces, New Mexico. One of the people who spoke after the launch was George Whitesides, Chief Space Officer for Virgin Galactic, who said their next goal is to accomplish manned flight from the New Mexico spaceport. In the photo above, I’m being a space cowboy, hanging out with one of the Virgin Galactic craft that may actually travel into space from this area. Time to saddle up and move out!

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

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.

Pandemic Past

Most of us are working to find ways of coping in the era of social distancing imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. My friend, Kenneth Silsbee, has come up with an innovative approach to create some social time by hosting a Friday evening “cocktail hour” where friends can gather via a Zoom conference call. It’s allowed me to connect to some of my college alumni friends and make some connections with Kenneth’s Seattle-area friends.

During the first of these cocktail hours, Kenneth asked whether any of the attendees had any family stories from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. All I remembered was a brief mention that my maternal grandfather was serving in the Army Air Corps in France during one of the pandemic’s waves. However, the question did make me think of a book I read two years ago when I prepared to moderate a panel called “Magical History” at the Tucson Festival of Books. The photo below shows me with the panelists, Beth Cato, Mindy Tarquini, and Gail Carriger.

The book I’ve been remembering is Mindy Tarquini’s The Infinite Now. In the novel, Fiora Vicente, the daughter of an Italian immigrant fortune teller living in Philadelphia, loses her parents to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 and is taken to live with a friend of the family in a tenement house. She takes possession of a magical curtain that allows her to see five minutes into the future. Afraid that the old man who has taken her in will die, she creates a bubble around the house to keep time from progressing. Meanwhile, a frightening healer seeks to entrap Fiora and take the curtain. The magic is subtle and metaphorical, and the author even introduces a bit of Clarke’s Third Law, the notion that sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic, at the novel’s end.

I’m sorry to have seen this year’s COVID-19 outbreak force the cancellation of the Tucson Festival of Books. That said, it’s clear from the way the virus is spreading that the organizers made the right call. Still, the Tucson Festival of Books has long been one of my favorite venues to meet and talk with authors from all around the country. In the panel, I not only discovered Mindy’s book, but I read books by Beth Cato and Gail Carriger as well. I highly recommend all their works if you’re looking for something good to read while social distancing.

As it turns out, the 2018 Tucson Festival of Books was not my first opportunity to meet Beth Cato. I had actually published her work on a few occasions in Tales of the Talisman Magazine. Volume 9, issues 2 and 4 along with Volume 10, issue 4 all have poems by Beth Cato and they are still in stock. As long as the post office is deemed an essential service, I’d be more than happy to pack up copies and send them to you. You can find all the issues of Tales of the Talisman at http://www.talesofthetalisman.com.

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/