World Building

This March, I’ll be moderating a panel called “Building Alternate Worlds” at the Tucson Festival of Books. To prepare, I’m reading the books by the authors on the panel and learning about the worlds they’ve built. This topic is particularly near and dear to my heart because I’m going over my notes and getting ready to start work on book four of my Clockwork Legion series.

Clockwork-Legion

In a very real way, books one through three of my Clockwork Legion series were all about building an alternate world. I started my story in a version of 1876 New Mexico that was mostly the world of history. I say “mostly” because the wild west of fiction is an almost mythical place built up through many years of literature and cinema. People come to western stories with certain expectations of the west and it’s hard to ignore those expectations even when they don’t entirely match the world of history.

I then dropped in a catalyst, which was an advanced alien called Legion who had traveled the universe and came to Earth. This alien is the embodiment of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principal, which in a nutshell says you can’t observe a phenomenon without affecting it. Legion’s first interactions with humanity are accidental, but then he grows curious and decides to make the world a better place by attempting to unify humanity. The problem is that in the 1800s, much of humanity’s idea of unification is conquest through imperialism.

Over the course of the books, the world changes and we see the development of airships, mining machines, lightning guns, clockwork automata, and ornithopters. Legion influenced the creation of some of these things. Others were created to combat the imperialists who sought to use these inventions. Of course, the interesting story is less that these machines were created, and more how people used these machines. That’s where the world building comes in.

The idea of book four is to drop into this world-that-wasn’t eight years after the events of The Brazen Shark and see what people have done with it. I plan to open the story in New Orleans, where Ramon Morales is working in a law firm and his wife Fatemeh is trying to gain acceptance as an apothecary in a man’s world. Cotton farmers have sponsored the World’s Fair to show off new technologies they’re using in agriculture. This World’s Fair actually existed, but the technologies will be much different. They’ll be showing off the automata used to plant and harvest crops and the airships used in distribution. At the World’s Fair, Ramon will meet none other than Doc Holiday, who will drag him back to a wild west that neither he nor the reader will immediately recognize. I look forward to playing in this alternate world.

For those who wish to see the creation of this world, check out the first three novels of the Clockwork Legion series:

For those who would like a smaller dose of my Clockwork Legion world, short stories featuring these characters can be found in the anthologies Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Tails of the Weird West, Den of Antiquity, and the forthcoming Straight Outta Tombstone.

Happy New Year 2017!

Several years ago, I resolved to give up New Year’s resolutions. I’ve been pretty successful so far, though I do have to admit to making a couple here and there since then. Last week, there was an article at Forbes.com that expressed much of what I don’t like about resolutions and further presented a better alternative, parts of which I already do. In short, the article suggests that you visualize the life you want and figure out the steps you need to take to get from where you are to that point. It also encourages you to give yourself permission to learn from mistakes as you continue that journey.

In many ways, I’m pretty happy with my life and I’m growing increasingly comfortable that “not everyone gets my kind of jazz” as author Liz Ryan says in the article. That said, I have several personal and professional goals I hope to achieve in the coming years and here at the beginning of 2017, I’m taking a little quiet time to think about the best ways to make those dreams a reality.

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That said, I’m already committed to several projects that are proceeding toward completion as this year begins. July will see the release of Straight Outta Tombstone edited by David Boop. The anthology contains my weird western vampire story “Fountains of Blood.” I’m excited to be sharing a table of contents with people like Jim Butcher, Kevin J. Anderson, Phil Foglio, and Jody Lynn Nye, as well as old friends such as Bob Vardeman and Nicole Kurtz. I’m both proud and humbled to be in this anthology and I’m not ashamed to say that getting into an anthology of this caliber has long been one of my career objectives. I also have work accepted for an anthology of Arthurian stories called Camelot 13 which will be published by Padwolf Publishing. My story is a science fictional retelling of Arthur’s final battle and looks at how people who love each other can end up finding ways to destroy each other.

In addition to these anthologies, I’ve edited two anthologies that I hope to see released in the coming months. One of those is Kepler’s Cowboys that I co-edited with Steve Howell, project scientist for NASA’s K2 mission. In this anthology we picked stories that imagine the brave men and women that will explore the new frontiers of worlds discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope in its Kepler and K2 missions. I hope to set a formal publication date soon, but I’m tentatively aiming for a release in mid-March to early-April. The other anthology is Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales coming from Wordfire Press. This anthology presents the best three stories from each of the Full-Throttle Space Tales anthologies. This series presented a fun, high octane stories exploring everything from space pirates to space battles. At this point, it looks like the anthology should be released in early summer. I’ll present more information about both books here at the Web Journal in the coming weeks.

I am under contract to write a fourth Clockwork Legion novel tentatively titled Owl Riders. I have an outline and this is the next major writing project in my queue. I can tell you that this novel is set approximately seven years after The Brazen Shark and finds Ramon and Fatemeh Morales working to make a life in New Orleans when the Apache Wars and the arrival of Fatemeh’s one-time betrothed interfere. 1884_fair_octaganal Not only do I plan to write, I have plans for at least one trip to New Orleans to visit locations in the novel such as the site of the 1884 Worlds Fair, where the novel opens. One of its buildings is shown on the right. Also, in the world of the Clockwork Legion, I understand audio editions of the first three books are in production and should be released this year.

Beyond that, I’ve already spoken to organizers about appearing at some events this spring and summer. I expect to attend both Wild Wild West Con and the Tucson Festival of Books in Tucson this March. I’ve signed up for a vendor table at El Paso Comic Con in April and I also plan to be at Westercon in Phoenix over the July 4 weekend.

The article I cited at the top of the post suggests that the big problem with resolutions is that they come from that authority-figure place in your brain that tells you what you should be doing. The realization I came to when I gave up resolutions years ago was that life should be fun and full of adventure as well as challenging. Most of the things I’ve discussed in this post are projects that I’m committed to either verbally or by formal contract. That said, they’re all fun and I’m looking forward to all of them. As I visualize beyond those projects, my goal will be to continue the journey, and so doing, continue my growth as a writer and as a person.

Wishing you the very best in this new year.

2016: A Personal Perspective

2016 has been one wild ride. On the political front, Britain voted to leave the European Union and the United States had the most divisive presidential election I’ve ever seen. We lost a lot of talented people this year ranging from Vera Rubin, the astronomer who discovered dark matter, to entertainers that touched many of us including David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Gene Wilder, and Anton Yelchin. Despite all that, 2016 has actually been a rather good year, personally.

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This year, I published two novels. In February, Sky Warrior Publishing released the third of my Clockwork Legion series, The Brazen Shark in which a ship captain takes two dear friends on a special honeymoon getaway, only to have it interrupted by samurai air pirates attempting to overthrow the Japanese emperor. In December, Lachesis Publishing released my horror novel The Astronomer’s Crypt, which tells the story of astronomers, ghosts, drug dealers, and a monster from the beginning of time who collide at a remote observatory during a violent thunderstorm. You can learn about both novel on the books page at my website.

In addition to the novels, four of my short stories appeared in anthologies. “Arachne’s Stepchildren” about the potential hazards of discovering new life appeared in The Martian Anthology. “Reckoning at the Alamo” which tells about Marshall Larissa Seaton and Professor Maravilla battling a Lovecraftian entity from across space appeared in Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West. “The Jackalope Bandit” which tells about one of Professor Maravilla’s jackalope harvesters being used to rob banks and payrolls appeared in Den of Antiquity. Finally, my retelling of Grimm’s “The Dragon and his Grandmother” appeared in the anthology Gaslight and Grimm which was funded through a very successful Kickstarter campaign. You can learn about all these books at the short story page of my website.

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I feel privileged to continue my work at Kitt Peak National Observatory where I operate the Mayall 4-meter and the WIYN 3.5-meter telescopes. This year, preparations began for the installation of a new cutting-edge instrument at the Mayall. This will be an instrument that will take spectra of 5000 objects at one time. Starting in 2018, the telescope will be used to survey the entire sky in hopes of better understanding the phenomenon known as dark energy. Part of this year’s preparations included deployment of a prototype instrument, the beginning of a new imaging survey to identify targets for the spectrographic survey, and work on a new control system for the Mayall. As it turns out, I’ll be ringing in the new year at the Mayall, helping with a program looking at a sample of galaxies from the early universe.

Over the course of the year, I had the opportunity to make several nice trips. In April, I spent time with two friends at Vermillion Cliffs in Northern Arizona. In May, I traveled to Baltimore for Balticon and the release of the Gaslight and Grimm anthology. In July, I traveled with my family to California for my nephew’s wedding.

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Speaking of family, my oldest daughter started a paid computer internship at Tulane University this year and opened her own Etsy shop. Meanwhile my youngest daughter has embarked on the adventure of high school. I couldn’t be more proud of these two young women.

Perhaps the year’s scariest moment came in November when my wife’s tire blew out on the way home from TusCon in Tucson, Arizona. The car spun on the interstate and went into the mesquite bushes between Texas Canyon and Wilcox on I-10. Fortunately my wife and youngest daughter who were in the car were all right, but the car was totaled. The story had a happy ending when my wife was able to use the insurance money to pay for a nice, albeit used, replacement car.

As I say, this year has been something of a wild ride. Although I am admittedly apprehensive about some things happening on the world and national stages, I have several good things on the horizon as well. Come back on Monday and learn about some things to look forward to in 2017. In the meantime, I wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year.

TusCon 43

This coming weekend, I’ll be at TusCon, an annual science fiction convention held in Tucson, Arizona from November 11-13 at the Radison Hotel at the Tucson Airport. The writer guest of honor is George R.R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire, which HBO has adapted in to A Game of Thrones. The artist guest of honor is Peri Charlifu, an award winning artist from Colorado with over 30 years experience in the field. The event is already SOLD OUT and I am told there will be no tickets at the door.

tuscon-43

My schedule at TusCon is as follows:

Friday, November 11

  • 6:00pm – 7:00pm. New hotel, same ol TusCon. Panel Room 1 (Valencia). In this panel, we discuss what’s new and what’s the same at TusCon. We even have a recycled Guest of Honor, although chances are only the panelists know that. On the panel with me: Curt Stubbs, Wendy Trakes, Scott Glener, Earl W. Parrish
  • 7:00pm – 9:00pm. Meet the Guests. Ballroom (Seville). Come rub elbows with the convention guests, enjoy the cash bar, be regaled by Toast Master Ed Bryant.
  • 10:00pm – 11:00pm. Discovering New Worlds. Panel Room 2 (Palo Verde). The Kepler Space Telescope along with many ground based surveys have literally found thousands of planets around other stars. What kinds of worlds are we finding and how do we find them?
  • Midnight – 1:00am. The Astronomer’s Crypt. Panel Room 1 (Valencia). I read from my latest horror novel inspired by my work at Kitt Peak National Observatory. In the novel, astronomers, ghosts, drug cartels and monsters from the beginning of time collide at an observatory on a dark and stormy night.

Saturday, November 12

  • 10:00am – 11:00am. Is serialization making writers forget how to write a good, solid, stand alone story? Panel Room 1 (Valencia). Now that everything successful must get a sequel how much time should be devoted to planting the seeds for the series? How much does that impede telling a satisfying single story? On the panel with me are Janie Franz, Jeffe Kennedy, and Van Aaron Hughes.
  • 11:00am – Noon. Autograph Session. Autographs (Upper Terrace). I’ll be autographing my wares alongside such notable folks as Dr. David Williams, Geoff Notkin, and Thomas Watson.
  • 1:00pm – 2:00pm. The physics of sci-fi space battles. Panel Room 1 (Valencia). Most of sci-fi is filled with space battles between giant carriers, or fighters buzzing every which way, firing lasers and missiles at each other. In reality, space battles will be determined almost completely by orbital dynamics. There is little room for surprise attacks, little opportunity to change trajectory once they’ve begun, and their outcomes are probably easy to forecast well in advance. This will change how war is waged in space, and even hard science fiction authors often fail to address these changes. It might be fun to watch a few classic battles, readdress them with physics, figure out the differences, and see what probably should have been different. On the panel with me are Gautham Narayan and David A. Williams.
  • 9:00pm – 10:00pm. Pitch Perfect – You can get published now! Ballroom (Seville). Bob Nelson of Brick Cave Media, Janie Franz of Museit Up Media, and I will take one-minute pitches for projects we’re editing. In my case, I have a spot reserved in the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys. Can you earn one of the last spots in the book. Come along and give it a try, but be sure you read the guidelines first!

Sunday, November 13

  • Noon – 1:00pm. Is conflict overrated? In the age of the antihero, maybe we just need more stories about nice people doing nice things. Ballroom (Seville). Remember when protagonists were… well… protagonists? Why have we left those days behind? On the panel with me are Jill Knowles, Thomas Watson, Earl W. Parrish, and Van Aaron Hughes.

In addition to all these great panels, Hadrosaur Productions will be in the dealer’s room. What’s more, book dealer Marty Massoglia and I will both be celebrating milestone birthdays over the weekend. There will be a celebration at some point. If you’re at TusCon, track us down for details! Hope you have your tickets and we’ll see you there!

2016 Election Season

First off, a reminder. I’m at Phoenix Fan Fest this weekend. Drop by the Dark Arts Commics booths A625 and A627 to say hi to me and fellow Las Crucen Daniel Thomas.

Politics and government fascinate me. Because of that, I’m watching this year’s election in the United States closely and I definitely plan to participate by voting. Although politics and social issues do tend to appear in my fiction, I don’t write about them much in this blog. The reason has to do with the power of science fiction and fantasy. These genres allow us to step away from our daily experience and look at things afresh through a new lens. I think that new lens is most effective if the reader doesn’t have a preconceived notion of my stance on issues, so don’t worry, I’m not going to try to sell you on one candidate or another here.

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A few weeks ago, I was honored to be asked to write a science fictional take on an Arthurian story for a forthcoming anthology called Camelot 13. I love Arthurian legend and delving into some of the oldest versions of the story, such as the version in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Part of my fascination extends to the politics embedded in the legend. In many ways, King Arthur and President Ulysses S. Grant strike me as similar, in that both were arguably great military commanders who had less success as heads of state, in part because they were distracted by the shenanigans of those who surrounded them. This isn’t really the element of the lore I explore in my story, but the science fictional lens lets me look at characters such as Arthur, Mordred, and Guinevere without a lot of the preconceived baggage a lot of readers will bring to those characters. I’m pleased to say the story was accepted and I hope to have more details about the book soon.

Of course, during the political season it’s hard to escape people’s opinions on the candidates or even the process of democracy. One of the most compelling pieces I read was an article the related Discovery Channel host Mike Rowe’s opinions on voting. According to Rowe the only misinformation in the article is that he wrote his words in August and not as a response to the debate. I find myself agreeing with a lot of what Rowe says about the right and responsibility of voting. If you’re an American citizen, I do encourage you to go out and vote, but I ask you to perform your due diligence and research the candidates at all levels and evaluate not just their politics but their competence and whether or not they can do duties they’re being elected to perform.

One interesting thing about living in Southern New Mexico is that I’ve had the opportunity to meet some interesting politicians. As an example, I was once called in to jury duty and found myself questioned by the Doña Ana District Attorney of the day, Susanna Martinez. As it turns out, Martinez is now governor of New Mexico and, at least briefly, was bandied about as potential Vice Presidential material. Whether or not you consider Ms. Martinez a serious choice for that role, this experience reminds me that often times our local politicians are the very people who ultimately become our national politicians. Finding competent people for local offices helps to assure that we find competent people for national offices. This is part of why the research element I mentioned is so important.

One of the hallmarks of the United States is that it is a republic and not a monarchy like that of King Arthur. Presidents, congressmen, supreme court justices have power, but ultimately they answer to us. They’re not our bosses. We’re theirs. I encourage you to act like it and hold them accountable by doing your homework and then voting.

What Is a Monster?

This past weekend, I was on a series of three panels with Gail Carriger at Gaslight Gathering in San Diego where we discussed a spectrum of topics ranging from Gothic literature to monsters in steampunk. Gail is the author of the well loved Parasol Protectorate steampunk series. On one of the panels we were joined by Dru Pagliasotti, author of the novel Clockwork Heart. The other two panels were moderated by DeAnna Cameron, author of the novel The Girl on the Midway Stage. In addition to these panels, I gave a presentation on the paranormal as it was perceived during the Victorian Age. Below is a photo from the first panel session.

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The overall experience proved to be a very in-depth discussion that started with our love of Gothic Literature and for many of us, how it got us started thinking about being writers and how the Gothics influenced almost all modern genre fiction from science fiction to horror to mystery to romance. We then moved on to a discussion of how monsters allow us to explore topics we might not otherwise get to explore in fiction. For example, werewolves allow us to explore the monster within. Vampires give us creatures who have a long-time outlook on humanity and can make observations that might seem trite coming from another creature. Of course mad scientists allow us to look at the morality of science itself.

What was perhaps the most interesting point of discussion for me came near the end of the three panels. One of the audience members asked us simply “What makes a monster?” The answer we came up with was that a monster must be corporeal, because monsters must have a physical, perhaps even visceral component. Monsters must be dangerous to humans in some way. In this sense, this allows for someone like Jack the Ripper, who is arguably a monster, though clearly in the form of a human. A monster is no longer monstrous when they are fully allied with humanity and pose no threat to the people they’re around.

One monster who seemed to show up in all the panels was Spring-heeled Jack, who I spoke about at length about a year and a half ago at The Scarlet Order Journal. It was even suggested that I should create a Spring-heeled Jack costume for a future steampunk event. I actually think such a costume would be a lot of fun to create, but it would be a challenge to figure out how to portray him. After all, he really was pretty monstrous in his earliest incarnation, attacking women with his metallic claws and breathing fire, which blinded a girl. Nevertheless, this is a challenge I’ll definitely consider.

Finally, despite Gaslight Gathering being a steampunk convention, it seemed my books which did the best in terms of sales were my Scarlet Order vampire novels, no doubt as a result of the theme. The vampires were pleased to get a chance to shine, though they do remind my readers that they will never, ever sparkle.

Gaslight Gathering and Other Steampunk Fun

gaslight-gathering-logo Next weekend, I’ll be at Gaslight Gathering in San Diego, California. This year, Gail Carriger, best selling author of the Parasol Protectorate Series will be Guest of Honor. Also presenting there will be my friends Madame Askew, Denise Dumars, Dee and Hal Astel, and Madeleine Holly-Rosing, creator of the Boston Metaphysical Society comic. The event will be held at the Town and Country Hotel from Friday, October 7 through Sunday, October 9. There will be costuming workshops, teapot racing, absinthe, movies and more!

Here’s my schedule:

Saturday, October 8

  • 10am-11am – Garden Salon One – Gothic Literature and Its Influence on Steampunk. I’ll join Writer Guest of Honor Gail Carriger, along with fellow steampunk writer Dru Pagliasotti for a lively discussion about Gothic literature and how it has influenced the Steampunk genre.
  • 1pm-2pm – Garden Salon One – Zombies, Vampires, and Ghosts – What are your favorite monsters? I’ll again join Guest of Honor Gail Carriger, along with fellow writer Todd McCaffrey for a panel that explores different monsters and paranormal creatures who have appeared in steampunk books. Which ones work best? Which are our favorites? Which didn’t work so well in both literature and the cinema!
  • 4pm-5pm – Vendor Hall – Autograph Session
  • Sunday, October 9

  • 10am-11am – Garden Salon One – Victorians and the Paranormal Presentation. We will look at ghosts, seances, spirit photography, and mysterious creatures such as Spring-Heeled Jack and Arizona’s ghost camels that have so fascinated our Victorian forefathers.
  • 11am-12pm – Vendor Hall – Autograph Session
  • 12pm-1pm – Taking The Horror out of Monsters. Not all monsters are monstrous. Some monsters are darn near lovable. Who are your favorite monsters and why do you like them better than certain people. On the panel with me are Gail Carriger and Todd McCaffrey.
  • doapromo2

    It seems fitting to announce the anthology Den of Antiquity in this post about forthcoming steampunk goodness. This anthology collects writings by members of The Scribbler’s Den, a writing group gathered on The Steampunk Empire, a great online social network for steampunk enthusiasts.

    When one thinks of a den, one tends to think of comfort. A cozy room in the house—a quiet, comfortable place, a room for conversation, reading, or writing. One doesn’t tend to think of high adventure, dragons, vampires, airships, or paranormal creatures. And yet, that’s just what you’ll find in these pages. Stories of adventure and mystery! Paranormal, dark, and atmospheric tales! The fantastical and the imaginative, the dystopian and post-apocalyptic, and everything in between!

    So settle in to the coziest room in your house, plop down into your favourite armchair, and dive in to the Den of Antiquity.

    This anthology which is slated for release on November 5 includes stories by Jack Tyler, E.C. Jarvis, Kate Philbrick, Neale Green, Bryce Raffle, N.O.A. Rawle, David Lee Summers, William J. Jackson, Steve Moore, Karen J. Carlisle, and Alice E. Keyes.

    My story in the anthology is called “The Jackalope Bandit” and it’s an exciting new story featuring Larissa and Professor Maravilla from my Clockwork Legion novels in a brand new adventure in which a six-foot tall mechanical jackalope robs banks and payrolls along the Rio Grande. Can Larissa and the professor solve this mystery from their armchairs in the den? Find out on November 5!