Extinct?

In the spring of 2014, when I first visited New Orleans, I looked up at the statue of Andrew Jackson in front of the St. Louis Cathedral and thought, wouldn’t it be cool if Jackson was riding a hadrosaur instead of a horse. As that thought occurred to me, I could almost hear the bellowing of hadrosaurs echoing the walls of Pirate’s Alley behind the cathedral and I knew I wanted to write a story about the Battle of New Orleans with dinosaurs.

That fall, I went to MileHiCon in Denver and Dana Bell told me that she was considering an anthology about extinct and mythical creatures living outside their time. She wanted to ask what if those ancient creatures of so beloved in fiction, myth and science had not disappeared or been real? What type of uses might have been developed to handle them and how might man have felt about the thundering giants in yesterday’s, today’s, or tomorrow’s worlds? I pitched my idea and she invited me to send the story. I wrote it up, sent it in, and she ultimately accepted it. And now, I’m pleased to announce that Extinct? is available for sale and “Jackson’s Hadrosaurs” is the lead story in the volume.

What else will you find in the book? Imagine a sanctuary for dinosaurs that displaces humans. Raptors used on a distant planet as scouts for a new colony. Dodo birds leaving a record about what happened to them or an unusual way dragons help settlers. A conqueror who learns a hard lesson from a goddess and two children who create their own monster.

You’ll find lovely tales about those lumbering giants of old in ways not shown before, of those who ruled the skies and many others once thought to be mythical, and yet, here they appear in Extinct?

I’m thrilled once again to be listed in a table of contents alongside so many of my favorite authors. Here are the stories you’ll find in this anthology:

  • Jackson’s Hadrosaurs – David Lee Summers
  • The Horse Man – Rebecca McFarland Kyle
  • The Wizard and the Dinosaur Riding Pirate – Sam Knight
  • Flutterlight – Ronnie Seagren
  • One More Bad Decision – M.R. Anglin
  • Ryuu Poo – Tam Lin
  • Unmaking Lord Rex Tyran – A.M. Burns
  • Dunce de León – Quincy J. Allen and Aaron Michael Richey
  • Fury – Spencer Carvalho
  • Dinosaura & Hominana – Todd A. Walls
  • The Goons – Matt Bille
  • The Mask Maker of Venezia – C. John Arthur
  • Song of the Sireini – Sean Jones
  • Across the Blood-Stained Sea – Rob S. Rice
  • The Prophecy Foretold – Lorelei Suzanne
  • Dodo’s Atlantis – Tam Lin
  • Man Versus Rex – Denise Miller Holmes
  • Lift – R. Joseph Maas
  • Children of the Goddess – Carol Hightshoe
  • Best Decision – Dana Bell
  • Brown and the Allosaurus Wrecks – J.A. Campbell

One of the things I wanted to explore in my story was the notion of herbivorous dinosaurs somehow being “tame” or “safe.” I think anyone who has spent time on a farm or around animals knows that herbivores can be dangerous if not treated with respect. On another trip to New Orleans, I stopped at a rest area and saw a crane standing in a bog while an alligator swam around hunting. The bird and the reptile were completely at ease with each other. Both seemed much more interested in eating the fish that swam around them than fighting. It made me think of symbiotic relationships in nature and I began to wonder how alligators would react to dinosaurs. Would they be friends or enemies? You can see my approach in the story.

When I was in New Orleans this past summer, I drove out to the Chalmette Battlefield, site of the real Battle of New Orleans. I was gratified to see it that it was much as I pictured it from descriptions. What’s more, I found descendants of dinosaurs wandering the field.

Extinct? is available in print at: Amazon.com

And as an ebook at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0778XYJ67/

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Chasing Legends

Back in September, I mentioned that Leiji Matsumoto’s Harlock Saga inspired me to watch the four operas of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. My wife and I treated the viewing a little like many people approach football games. We stocked up on snacks and for each opera, just settled in for an evening’s entertainment.

When we finished the complete cycle, I found myself curious about the legends that inspired it. Much of this was because the legend itself has fascinating mythical elements such as the Norse gods, magical sword, dragon slaying, and a jilted Valkyrie lover. Another aspect was that I saw a handful of parallels between the saga and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, the Ring Cycle is tainted by Richard Wagner’s antisemitism and I wanted to get to know the legend without those disturbing overtones.

I soon learned that early in his academic career, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his own version of the lays that would ultimately give rise to the Ring Cycle. I soon ordered a copy of the book in hopes that the discussion would give me some insights into Norse mythology, some of how Tolkien was inspired by the story, and perhaps even what Tolkien found particularly appealing about the story.

The book includes Tolkien’s versions of the lays along with extensive commentary by his son, Christopher Tolkien. An appendix endeavors to place the story into historical context. There are several notes that show how aspects of the lays and the Norse language influenced The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, the book never really answered why Tolkien found Norse legend especially appealing, other than to mention that it was part of his academic interest.

Perhaps the aspect of the poems I found most interesting was learning that after Siegfried’s (or Sigurd’s) betrayal and death, Gutrune (or Gudrún) went on to marry none other than Attila the Hun. What’s interesting about this for me is that it places the Siegfied story into a particular place in history and that place is about a generation or two before the rise of King Arthur in Britain, a story that has influenced my own writing.

As discussed in the book, it’s unclear how much of Gudrún’s story was intended as history and how much is taking a popular story and melding it with history. According to the most accurate histories we have, we know Attila married a Germanic woman shortly before his death, so their may be some truths in the legend. The timing of the story also made me wonder whether pressure from the Huns drove the Saxons into Britain helping to give rise to the conflicts that ultimately gave us the King Arthur legend.

Perhaps more interesting to me than this idle speculation is just the fact that Tolkien actually went through the process of retelling the Norse lays that he found so fascinating. It reminds me of what I did when I retold the Arthurian Culhwch and Olwen story. For me, it was an exercise in getting my head around a fascinating story and getting to know it better. Now, Tolkien was much more an expert at Norse legend in his youth than I will ever be in Arthurian lore, and he started with the Norse texts whereas I worked with translations. Still, it was fun to see that we approached the problem of understanding these old stories in a similar way.

If you’re curious about my version of Culhwch and Olwen, I recorded it as an audiobook. You can pick up copies from Amazon or directly from Hadrosaur Productions. In short Arthur’s cousin Culhwch entreats the king to help him win the hand of Olwen. Olwen’s father agrees to let the couple marry if Arthur is successful in a dangerous quest for … grooming supplies!

As for my own interest in Arthurian legend, I’ll just say that the more I looked into it, the more I discovered it was something of a puzzle lost in history. The more I looked, the more I was interested in the history behind the legend. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tolkien felt much the same way about the legend of Sigurd and Gudrún.

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

I’ve been spending much of this last week revising my fourth Clockwork Legion novel Owl Riders. This is the pass when I’m working to make sure the novel is internally consistent, clean up the prose, get rid of all but the most essential of those pesky adverbs, and make sure the scenes are not too rushed nor bogged down with info dumps. This is also the pass where I attempt to touch up the history. Although I try to get things correct in the first pass, I sometimes find there are details that add credibility to the story.

When I was recently in New Orleans, Marita Crandle of Boutique du Vampyre recommended I visit the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. The suggestion was uncanny because I had not told her about the character of Fatemeh in my Clockwork Legion novels. Those who’ve read the books know she’s a healer. As the books continue, she seeks more formal training. By the beginning of Owl Riders, she has a pharmacy degree. The timing is not inconsistent with history. The woman to get a pharmacy degree was Mary Corinna Putnam Jacobi, who graduated from the New York College of Pharmacy in 1863. So, a trip to the Pharmacy Museum seemed in order.

The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum is on Chartres Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter on the site of America’s first licensed pharmacy. It’s about a block away from the site of the fictional pharmacy in Owl Riders. In history, the bottles of brightly colored liquids in the front window known as “show globes” weren’t just decorative. If all the bottles in the window had the same thing, you knew there was an epidemic in the city the pharmacy had plenty of the remedy in stock. If the bottles were multiple colors, the pharmacist was advertising their skills compounding a variety of medicines and cosmetics. Yes, compounding cosmetics was part of an early pharmacist’s job. They might also have a soda fountain, since the forerunners of modern soft drinks were believed to be tonics of one variety or another. Here’s a look at the kinds of bottles and shelves that would have stood behind the counter of a nineteenth century pharmacy such as the one I have in my novel.

If you visit the museum, I highly recommend going in time to hear the daily presentation. When I visited, that happened at 1pm. The museum’s website is http://www.pharmacymuseum.org/ and you can check for any updates, plus they have several photos of their exhibits. During the tour, they discussed the history of the pharmacy on the site, the practices of early pharmacies, and how early drugs were administered.

Of course the museum tour pointed out that one of the reasons New Orleans started licensing pharmacies was to make things more difficult for traditional healers, many of whom were female and people of color, a fact that’s true of my character Fatemeh. This was already a subject I’d addressed in the novel, but in this last week’s pass I added just a little bit to show how she had to work to overcome officials who might not welcome her services.

Get ready for Owl Riders by reading the three novels that come before it. Who knows, you might find the cure for what ails you!

Elizabeth Patton Crockett

I’m home at last after a trip that took me up to Colorado to sign the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, to Louisiana to sign my vampire and horror novels, and to Bubonicon in New Mexico where I promoted all my recent books and debuted Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. In the middle of all that was Texas and on the way from Colorado to Louisiana I stopped in Acton, just outside Dallas to visit a memorial to a distant relative of mine, Elizabeth Patton Crockett.

Elizabeth was Davy’s widow and she was granted a plot of land after Texas became a state in gratitude for Davy’s service at the Alamo. She moved from Tennessee to Texas in 1853 and lived on the land until her death in 1860. There seems to be some debate about whether the statue is supposed to depict Elizabeth Patton Crockett or a pioneer woman in general. I like to think of it as Elizabeth, or at least an idealized form of Elizabeth. The one painting I’ve seen of her could be an older version of the woman immortalized by the statue.

Another homesteader in the area around Acton was a fellow named Isaac C. Burson, born in Alabama around the outbreak of the War of 1812. He died the year after Elizabeth Patton moved to the area around Acton. His daughter Martha married one of Elizabeth’s sons from her first marriage, a fellow named James C. Patton around 1859. As it turns out, Martha’s brother, Elisha Micah Burson was my great great grandfather. Three of Elisha Micah’s sons picked up and moved out of the Acton area. Two of the brothers homesteaded in Briscoe County, Texas in the late nineteenth century while my great grandfather, James Daniel Matthew Burson went on to homestead in the northeastern corner of New Mexico. The photo to the right shows him at his general store in Des Moines, New Mexico circa 1920.

My daughter, who accompanied me, thought this little side trip through the heart of Texas to see a statue dedicated to the memory of a pioneer woman connected to our family was worthwhile. It’s rare to see a statue to a woman and, indeed, this one is hidden away in a quiet little cemetery. The “Acton Historic Site” is supposedly the smallest state park in Texas and is Elizabeth Patton Crockett’s grave site. I grew up knowing several women like Elizabeth Patton Crockett and elements of their personalities became templates for characters such as Fatemeh Karimi and Larissa Crimson in my Clockwork Legion novels.

If you’d like to read the novels, they are:

When Research Derails Your Plot

Before I sit down to write one of my novels, I like to plot them out. These days my plots are fairly detailed with a sentence or two about every scene I plan to write. This helps to guide my research so I learn what I need to know before I start writing the novel. Despite that, details sometimes slip through the cracks.

For example, I’m currently working on my fourth Clockwork Legion novel, Owl Riders. The historical Wyatt Earp is an important side character. In one scene, a character wants to buy Wyatt a drink. Now, I’ve watched many western movies featuring Wyatt Earp and he’s often shown in a saloon, playing faro or poker. In my research, I found this to be reasonably accurate, so it seemed fair to assume that Wyatt was a drinking man.

I thought it would be fun to add a little authenticity to the story and have the character buy Wyatt not just any drink, but his favorite drink. Wyatt Earp’s life is so well documented, I thought it might be possible to find out what he liked to drink. As it turns out, I did indeed find out. Wyatt Earp didn’t drink alcohol at all!

At this point, I faced two choices. The first, and perhaps most controversial would be to declare that in this alternate history Wyatt does drink. I’d argue this is actually a fair choice, but if you do go this route, you should do even more research to understand why Wyatt Earp didn’t drink and decide what circumstances in your alternate world would make him a drinking man. While you might not dwell on that choice in the story, you probably should say a few words about it. I would only recommend considering this route if major plot points down the road required that Wyatt Earp be a drinker for some reason and pulling that element out of the story would make it fall down like the proverbial house of cards.

In addition to being a writer, I’m a professional scientist. All my training is built around the idea that if I do research and find something that doesn’t fit my preconceived notions, I have to accept that finding. Between that inclination and the fact that Wyatt Earp having a shot of whiskey, scotch or anything else was simply not critical to the story in its own right, I did a little more research. I discovered that Wyatt Earp was a big fan of ice cream and ice cream parlors were just starting to spring up in the old west of the 1880s.

Returning to my novel, I used this bit of trivia to create a minor plot complication for my character who had to scramble to find Wyatt’s favorite ice cream parlor to continue his plans. It adds an interesting moment to the story, as well as a little bit of fun, historical trivia.

For me, this is one of the most fun parts of writing the Clockwork Legion novels. I get to learn about history and figure out how that history is changed by the world-altering events I’ve proposed. Conversely, I figure out what things would be constants in this new world and how that affects the story I want to tell.

If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll join me on this thrilling ride through history. The links below will take you to my pages about the books where you can find out how to purchase, read sample chapters, see book trailers and more. Also, note the first two books are available as audio books as well as print and ebooks.

The Magic of Old Books

This past week, I finished the rough draft of my fourth Clockwork Legion novel, tentatively titled Owl Riders. These novels are steampunk steeped in history. The first novel, Owl Dance starts in a wild west very much like the wild west of history. However, as an alien character called Legion interferes in human affairs and humans themselves gain confidence in their inventions, the world of the novels gradually diverges from the world of history.

Because I start in the world of history, I like to do my homework and understand the places and peoples I describe in my books. Even when I diverge from history, the cultural experience of the people in the novel will be the same up until the divergence point. Reading books that discuss the history of the region and peoples I’m writing about is, of course, important, but one thing I like to do over and beyond that is find books written by people who lived at the time the book takes place.

One of the challenges of Owl Riders is that I have some scenes set in Persia of 1885. I found some good histories of Iran which gave me insights not only into the country in the nineteenth century, but how that history helped to shape the modern country. However, I wasn’t sure what I would find written at the time period. A search at my local library didn’t turn up anything. On an off chance, I went to COAS, our wonderful used bookstore in Las Cruces and happened on a book called Land of the Lion and Sun by Absalom D. Shabaz, published in 1901. The book’s subtitle is “Personal Experiences, the Nations of Persia—Their Manners, Customs and Their Beliefs.”

This sounded perfect, a personal viewpoint of someone living in Iran within a few years of my story’s time period. On closer inspection, I discovered that the book was written as a guide for people hoping to be Christian Missionaries in Persia. I’ve just started the book and I find that Shabaz was raised a Christian in Persia and had to deal with the reactions of his friends and neighbors. This actually proves to be an interesting viewpoint because it combines elements from both my protagonists, Ramon Morales who is a Catholic-raised lawyer visiting Persia for the first time and Fatemeh Morales who converted to the Bahá’í Faith as a young woman and then left home.

For me, the real magic of a book like Land of the Lion and Sun is that I can hear the words of the author speaking directly to me across more than a century. I can read a personal perspective in the language of the time, with all the attitudes and prejudices of the time intact. I think it’s important to start by reading modern histories precisely because an author of a particular time can’t help but share their prejudices. It allows me to separate the perceptions of the historical author from history as it unfolded. I look forward to seeing how Mr. Shabaz experienced the history I’ve read about and see where that might lead me as I prepare to revise my novel.

While you’re waiting for the fourth novel, be sure to catch the three novels that are already published. Clicking the titles will take you to pages with more information:

Grandmother Montana and Aunt Arizona

The other day I stumbled into a quest back in time and through my family history. This particular quest began with Ming the Merciless, always an indication of a truly bad-ass journey.

Specifically, I was watching some of the old Flash Gordon serials starring Buster Crabbe as Flash and Charles Middleton as Ming. As I was watching, I had this feeling I’d seen Charles Middleton in some other films and went to IMDB to check his list of credits. Sure enough, Charles Middleton appeared in a lot of films, I’d seen. Perhaps most notably was Jesse James. What makes Jesse James notable is that my grandfather was hired to cook for the cast and crew, which of course means my grandfather once cooked for Ming the Merciless. Cool!

Unfortunately, back in 1939, behind-the-scenes crew on movies didn’t get credit, but I was curious whether any documents on the web might discuss my grandfather’s involvement in the film. Alas, I didn’t find anything but I did find a photo of my grandfather’s tombstone on a rather ominous sounding, but very useful website called findagrave.com. I’d actually seen this site before, and I’ve found it helpful when tracking down some genealogical information.

What was new, since the last time I visited was that the site for my grandfather included a link to my mom. I clicked there, and sure enough, I found the tombstone she shares with my dad. This part of the quest was sad and I took a moment to pay my virtual respects. Before I moved on, I noticed that my dad’s parents weren’t linked, even though they’re buried in the same San Bernardino cemetery as my parents. Call this an action item when I have more time to research the site’s submission requirements.

This little side journey led me to wonder if any of my other Summers ancestors were listed at findagrave.com. I soon discovered listings for my great grandparents, James and Montana Summers. Much as it was interesting to find photos of their tombstones, the real treasure I discovered was that someone had posted their obituaries.

For me, the real magic of genealogy is not just learning who you’re descended from and where they came from, which is cool, but actually learning the stories behind the names and dates. These obituaries gave me one of the first real glimpses into the kinds of people my great grandparents were.

As it turns out, I have a transcript of a letter Montana’s father, Paul Teter, wrote to his hometown newspaper describing his time as a Confederate soldier in Missouri and his subsequent business career. James’s father, by the way, also fought in the Civil War, but as a Union soldier. I’ve always been a little curious to know why my great grandmother was named Montana, especially when her siblings had relatively ordinary names like Fred, Paul, and Sarah. It is true that my great grandmother was born just a few months after the founding of Montana Territory, but none of her other siblings were named after new territories—or so I thought.

It turns out, according to the website, my great grandmother had a half-sister named Arizona. No, the title of this post isn’t some clever metaphor, I actually have a great grandmother named Montana and discovered I have an aunt named Arizona. However, that’s not the end of the quest. Although Montana lived her entire life in Missouri, Arizona married a man who went to work for the Santa Fe Railroad, the same company my dad worked for. They eventually moved to California and lived in Orange County, not far from where I grew up.

While it seems likely the founding of Montana territory inspired Montana’s name, I’m at a bit of a loss to know why her sister, born in 1885, was named Arizona. The seminal Arizona event of 1885 seems to have been the founding of the territory’s two major universities: The University of Arizona and Arizona State University. Perhaps my great great grandfather just liked the name!

You might note that Montana and Arizona were the daughters of Paul Teter. That line of the family inspired the name “Mike Teter” for the protagonist of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. I was pleased to make a stronger connection to that part of my family.

As quests go, it might not have been Earthshaking. I didn’t destroy the Death Star, keep Mongo from conquering the Earth, or destroy the one ring, but I did learn a little more about myself—perhaps the best outcome from any great quest.