The Horror of Time Management

My daughter recently wrapped up another semester’s midterms in college, which presented her with a nearly overwhelming set of projects and exams. On top of that, she has a job with its own set of responsibilities. At the same time, I’ve been juggling quite a few projects as well. I’m drafting a novel, shepherding an anthology through its final phases of publication, promoting those books that are already out. Of course, I also have the “day” job of operating telescopes. Included in my job duties is oversight of the telescope operation manuals, which keeps me busy by itself. Given our different time management challenges, we had a good discussion about the subject and how to move forward without feeling overwhelmed.

The photo shows me with both of my daughters a couple of years ago at Gator Chateu in Jennings, Louisiana. The picture is kind of a metaphor. If you think of projects as alligators, they’re easy to handle and kind of fun when they’re small. The challenge is when they get big and you have several of them at once!

I’ve been seeing several articles in recent months that suggest multitasking is counterproductive. I can believe it. To extend my alligator metaphor, it’s like trying to go up against all the gators by yourself at once. You’re more likely to get eaten than get something useful done with the gators. Not multitasking sounds great until you’re confronted with the reality of several big projects and looming deadlines.

The first thing to realize is that it’s actually rare for all deadlines to fall at the exact same time. Even when deadlines do occur at the same time, there’s nothing saying you can’t finish one project early if possible. The first thing I like to do when confronted with several looming projects is figure out which things need to be done first. Also, some projects require more complete attention from me while others require me to contact a person and then wait for a response. This part is like getting your alligators into separate enclosures so you can deal with them one at a time.

To step back a little and make this more concrete for writers, this is why I think it’s invaluable for a writer to have good, regular writing habits. For me, it’s much easier to write productively in a small block of time if I have been writing routinely every day. If I take a long break from my writing, that’s when anxiety starts to build regarding what I’m going to write about. That’s when I spend long periods of time staring at the computer trying to figure out what words I’m going to be using. If I’m writing regularly, I can look at my outline, see the scene I want to write, then sit down and get it done in the block I have available. If you write by the seat of your pants, you won’t be looking at an outline, but you might think about the last scene you wrote and decide where you’re going.

Editing and book promotion can both involve some amount of writing emails or making phone calls and then waiting for responses. A daily routine that often works well for me is to wake up, check my email and see if there’s anything I need to deal with right away. I take care of what I need to, and then set aside those tasks that either don’t require an instant response or can’t be finished instantly. At that point, I turn off my email program and turn off the ringer on my phone. I write to the goal I have set myself. That goal varies depending on the project, but it’s often a thousand or two thousand words. Once that goal is done, I turn the phone back on and restart the email program, check for messages and move on to longer term editorial work.

Now, you’ll notice, I’ve not addressed the observatory job. One thing I like about my job is that while I work long hours at the telescope, I only work for about six or seven nights every two weeks. So, all my work taking data at the telescope and drafting manuals happens at the observatory and is only occasionally done at home when there’s a pressing deadline or a safety issue that needs to be dealt with right away. This kind of schedule isn’t for everyone, which means you need to adapt your schedule to your routine. It may mean smaller blocks of time every day for every job you do, or it may mean you do some jobs on some days and other jobs on other days.

After awhile, it starts to look like multitasking, but really I try hard to focus on one job at a time as much as possible.

I also didn’t mention family time in the equation, but for me, that’s perhaps the most important time of all and the least negotiable. It’s also probably a better reason for showing a photo with me and my daughters than a silly alligator analogy. When I’m at home, I typically stop work at 6pm to be available to my wife and daughters as they need. There are exceptions. Among other things, sometimes my younger daughter has after school activities or homework that take her attention for a while. Sometimes she works on that while I work on a project. When I’m at the observatory, I’m away from home, but I make time to Skype with my family every day and I’m available to take calls as needed.

So, to sum up, if I’m working on several long-term projects with deadlines, I like to prioritize those projects with earlier deadlines. I block out my day so I make progress on all my projects, taking it one thing at a time. I try to build up good habits so that limited blocks of time are productive. I recognize what I need to make myself productive at each type of project and try to maintain those conditions.

All of that said, yeah, I still get overwhelmed at times. Sometimes then, the best thing to do is take a break, go for a walk, clear my head and look at it all afresh. Sometimes then, those alligators don’t look quite as big as I thought the first time and I’m able to wrestle them into their compartments and get on with my life.

The Astronomer’s Crypt Available in Paperback

I am pleased to announce that my novel of ghouls, ghosts, and gangsters colliding on a dark and stormy night at an astronomical observatory with only scientists and engineers to stop them is now available in paperback as well as ebook.

astronomers-crypt-453x680

As it turns out, 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the release of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. Sony’s Libre e-reader was released four years before that. Since that time, various apps have allowed people to read books on their favorite mobile devices whether phone or tablet. In that time, the media that reports on the publishing industry has regularly reported on the “war” between e-publishing and print publishing.

I’ve always considered this notion of a “war” between the two formats to be ridiculous. E-books are just another way for books to be available to readers. In fact, from my perspective as a reader, I like having both formats available. Which format I buy depends on a number of factors ranging from how unwieldy the print edition is, whether I’ll be reading while traveling, whether I might meet the author and want the book signed, and yes, price can be a factor in my decision as well.

In my experience as an author, publisher, and book vendor, I’ve found having both paperback and ebook editions are critical to a book’s success. In fact, even for those titles where ebooks outsell paper editions, I find displaying paper editions at conventions will encourage sales of the ebook editions. This hardly seems like a war to me, but a strong alliance!

Because of that, I’m pleased that my publisher is able to make the book available in a number of ebook formats as well as paperback, but do remember, in whichever version you buy, my publisher has the following disclaimer:

    If you scare easily, don’t read this book.
    If you dare to read it, you’ve been warned.

    Two years ago on a stormy night, in the dead of winter, 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. We won’t tell you what he saw that night on the mountain nor what happened afterward on a dark stretch of highway, because it would haunt you just as it has haunted Mike. But what we will tell you is that Mike is back at Carson Peak. And what he witnessed that night two years ago is about to become a reality…

The paperback edition is available at:

The ebook edition is available at:

G.O. Clark’s Collection of Robot Poetry

A few days ago, I received a collection of poetry in the mail from long-time Tales of the Talisman contributor, G.O. Clark. built-to-serve-g-o-clark-200x300 It was a copy of his new poetry collection, Built to Serve. In this collection, Clark tackles the subject of robots from many different angles. Of course, robots are no longer just the stuff of science fiction, they’re part of our every day world. I started my astronomy career working with a robotic telescope and over the course of my career, I’ve seen automation make many aspects of astronomical observation more efficient. I’ve long thought about artificial intelligence and my daughter recently took a college course in machine learning, which led to some interesting discussions. What’s more, writers have long used robots as metaphors for low wage workers or even slaves.

Clark’s collection takes a look at robots from both the practical and metaphorical angles. He starts the collection in an almost steampunk alternate reality and imagines robots of the past moving forward into futures of obsolescence, much as humans do in life. As he notes in “The Steam-Powered Robot”:

    Funny thing about the future,
    it never waits for anyone. His mainspring
    driven moment slipped away: old iron
    bones recycled for a newer model.

Clark compares and contrasts the sensations robots might experience to those of humans. He also imagines how humans might themselves go against the spirit of Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics and use robots to hunt down other humans. In a familiar science fiction trope, Clark imagines robots transforming the world into a better place, which doesn’t always go so well for the humans who created them.

C;arl reminds us that many of our first encounters with robots are with toys and he looks at those encounters with both fondness and terror. Some of the robots he introduces us to are toys of the more adult variety, but even they can induce nightmares such as the lady robot in this poem:

    Heading back towards the
    closet, she deftly unzips, then
    steps out of her perfect tan skin and
    hangs it upon a custom hanger.

It’s true Clark covers many familiar robot tropes, but he does it well and often times he gives those tropes fresh twists. Moreover, he looks at humanity through the eyes of robots and helps us understand more about ourselves. This is a collection well worth seeking out. You can find copies at the Alban Lake Store and at Smashwords.

Maximum Velocity Cover Reveal

At CopperCon in 2007, David Boop approached me about editing an anthology of space pirate stories for Flying Pen Press. We called Flying Pen’s owner David Rozansky and I promised to talk to some people and see what kind of interest I could drum up. I found several enthusiastic authors and started collecting stories. David, David and I met over dinner at MileHiCon in Denver about six weeks later. We were joined by Carol Hightshoe and a few other people, and the idea came up that we could turn this space pirate anthology idea into a whole series of anthologies that explored different themes. It was decided Carol would do the second anthology about women exploring space.

space_pirates1 2008 saw the publication of Space Pirates, the first anthology in the Full-Throttle Space Tales series. Space Sirens, edited by Carol Hightshoe, came out in early 2009. Dayton Ward edited the third entry in the series called Space Grunts which presented stories of the military in space. He tells the story of his involvement at The Fog of Ward.

At this point, I returned to edit a second volume in the series. Back at the dinner at MileHiCon, we’d discussed calling it Space Vampires, but we decided to open it to a variety of horror tropes. I received stories about zombies, ghosts, monstrous aliens, and yes, even vampires. SummersSpaceHorrors That book became Space Horrors. Jennifer Brozek edited Space Tramps about vagabonds making their way through the spaceways. Last but not least, Bryan Thomas Schmidt proposed an exciting anthology of space battles in all their forms. I was honored to have stories in every anthology of the series but one. I don’t know whether I would have been selected for Space Grunts because time commitments prevented me from submitting a story. Let that be a lesson for all those who decide not to submit their work. The best way to guarantee not having your story in a book or magazine, is never to submit it!

Unfortunately, in 2013, Flying Pen Press made the decision to stop publishing fiction and the books went out of print and the publication rights to the stories reverted to the individual authors.

It’s a shame to keep good stories from readers who want them, so the five editors started thinking about ways we could bring the books back in some form. In 2015, Jennifer Brozek, Dayton Ward, and I were all in Phoenix for LepreCon and we hatched the idea of assembling a “best of” anthology. Each editor would read the anthology before the one they edited and select their five favorite stories for potential inclusion.

In a moment of wonderful synchronicity, David Boop who helped to launch the series originally, had started working with WordFire Press, owned by bestselling author/editor Kevin J. Anderson. David and Kevin discussed the idea of doing a “best of” anthology from the Full-Throttle Space Tales independently of our plans. David came to me with the idea just as I was working with the editors to select their stories. David encouraged me to make a pitch to Kevin, which I did, and the upshot is that this summer, WordFire Press will be publishing the “best of” collection entitled Maximum Velocity. Credit for the cool title goes to Dayton Ward, by the way. Here’s a first look at the cover:

maximum-velocity-front-cover

And here are the stories you’ll find inside:

    From Space Pirates:

  • “On the Eve of the Last Great Ratings War” by David Boop
  • “Space Pirate Cookies” by C.J. Henderson
  • Earth-Saturn Transit” by W.A. Hoffman

    From Space Sirens:

  • “Outpost 6” by Julia Phillips
  • “Hijacking the Legacy” by David Lee Summers
  • “Rebel Moon” by Carol Hightshoe

    From Space Grunts:

  • “Price of Command” by Irene Radford and Bob Brown
  • “Finders Keepers” by Scott Pearson
  • “Granny’s Grunts” by Alan L. Lickiss

    From Space Horrors:

  • “Last Man Standing” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
  • “Into the Abyss” by Dayton Ward
  • “Listening” by Anna Paradox

    From Space Tramps:

  • “Backup” by Ivan Ewert
  • “The Frigate Lieutenant’s Woman” by Erik Scott de Bie
  • “Oh Give Me Land, Lots of Land, Under Starry Skies Above” by Shannon Page and Mark J. Ferrari

    From Space Battles:

  • “The Thirteens” by Gene Mederos
  • “The Joystick War” by Jean Johnson
  • “Guard Dog” by Mike Resnick and Brad R. Torgersen

It’s been tremendous fun to revisit these stories of swashbuckling pirates, talented women, soldiers, and vagabonds facing situations both terrifying and thrilling. WordFire currently expects the anthology will be available in June and I hope to have copies at Westercon in July. So, buckle up, because this summer we’ll be going to Maximum Velocity!

Kepler’s Cowboys Available for Pre-order

I’m pleased to announce that the latest anthology from Hadrosaur Productions, Kepler’s Cowboys is now available for pre-order. Ebook copies will be delivered on March 1. The plan is that we will ship the paperbacks by March 1 as well. Here are the details about the book.

keplers-cowboys-display NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has discovered thousands of new planets.
Visiting, much less settling, those worlds will provide innumerable challenges.
The men and women who make the journey will be those who don’t fear the odds.
They’ll be Kepler’s Cowboys.

Saddle up and take an unforgettable journey to distant star systems. Meet new life forms—some willing to be your friend and others who will see you as the invader. Fight for justice in a lawless frontier. Go on a quest for a few dollars more. David Lee Summers, author of the popular Clockwork Legion novels, and Steve B. Howell, head of the Space Sciences and Astrobiology Division at NASA Ames Research Center, have edited this exciting, fun, and rollicking anthology of fourteen stories and five poems by such authors as Patrick Thomas, Jaleta Clegg, Anthony R. Cardno, L.J. Bonham, and many more!

Here are the complete list of stories, poems, and authors you’ll find in the anthology:

  • Introduction by Steve B. Howell and David Lee Summers
  • Step Right Up by Louise Webster
  • Pele’s Gift by Gene Mederos
  • Over the Ridge by Terrie Leigh Relf
  • Chasing May by Anthony R. Cardno
  • Aperture Shudder by Jesse Bosh
  • Voyage to the Water World by Livia Finucci
  • The Silent Giants by Simon Bleaken
  • Calamari Rodeo by David Lee Summers
  • Tears for Terra by J.A. Campbell and Rebecca McFarland
  • Kismet Kate by Neal Wilgus
  • Carbon Copies by David L. Drake
  • Assembler by Doug Williams
  • Twin Suns of the Mushroom Kingdom by Jaleta Clegg
  • Point of View by Lauren McBride
  • A Very Public Hanging by L.J. Bonham
  • The Outlaw from Aran by Vaughn Wright
  • The Misery of Gold by Steve B. Howell
  • Backstabbers and Sidewinders by Patrick Thomas
  • Forsaken by the God-Star by Gary W. Davis
  • About the Authors

I’m really excited about this new collection. When we published A Kepler’s Dozen back in 2013, we were just beginning to comprehend the vast array of planets that exist outside our solar system. Four years later, we’ve unleashed a talented group of authors on this literal sandbox of alien worlds to see where they took us. This collection was a real delight to edit. We explore water worlds, terrestrial worlds, and gas giants. Our “cowboys” range from folks who would be at home in a western movie to machines that learn to think for themselves. We travel to alien worlds and even have an alien from a Kepler world travel to Earth in the 1800s.

You can pre-order ebook copies of Kepler’s Cowboys at Amazon and Smashwords.

You can pre-order the paperback of Kepler’s Cowboys at Hadrosaur Productions for a special discounted price of $12.95 until March 1.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis

In 1993, one of my co-workers at Kitt Peak National Observatory introduced me to the Vampire Chronicles of Anne Rice. At that point there were just four volumes in the series. I picked up a set and read straight through them. I loved the way her vampires were able to travel leisurely through history and see things in our modern world with wonder and passion. An example is the way 17th century French vampire Lestat de Lioncourt discovers rock and roll, makes it his own, and wakes the Queen of the Damned herself. This long view of history appealed to me both because of my inherent love of history and my love of science fiction. After all, that’s much of what science fiction is about, looking back at history, understanding how people and technologies change, and then projecting those changes into possible futures. Thanks in part to Anne Rice, I would try my own hand at vampire fiction, gave it a science fictional twist and Vampires of the Scarlet Order was born.

I’ve continued to follow the Vampire Chronicles over the years and it feels like a circle of sorts has been completed with her latest entry in the series. princelestatrealmsofatlantis As Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis opens, we learn that a vampire named Roland has captured a strange, human-looking creature. He can drink all the creature’s blood, which is more satisfying than even human blood, and the creature will appear to die. Despite this, the creature will awaken soon after, its blood regenerated. Roland shows this creature to the ancient and powerful Rhoshamandes, who has fallen out of favor with the vampire court led by Prince Lestat. Roland suggests the creature can be used as a tool for Rhoshamandes to regain power.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, another creature hears a familiar name in the radio broadcasts of the vampires. When he attempts to confront vampire Benji Mamoud who hosts the broadcast, vampires confront him and corner him. The creature then dispatches the two vampires. While all this is going on, Prince Lestat, back at the vampire court, has started having dreams of a great city that fell into the sea. Lestat has become prince of the vampires by becoming the host of Amel, the spirit responsible for the existence of the vampires in the first place.

From the title, it should come as no surprise that Lestat ultimately discovers a connection between the strange creatures, the spirit Amel, and the lost city of Atlantis. Like the vampires, the new creatures, who call themselves Replimoids, have aspects that are both likeable and frightening. This story of the Replimoids and Atlantis is the reason I feel like I completed a circle. The series that led me to my science fictional take on vampires has now taken its own science fictional turn. There’s a simplicity and almost innocence to Rice’s visions of advanced civilizations and their constructs that reminds me of the science fiction from the 1950s and 60s. This might be a little surprising for people used to contemporary SF, or used to some of the dark historical realities presented in the earlier Vampire Chronicles, but it mostly works in the context of the story.

Like the previous entry in the Vampire Chronicles, Prince Lestat, Rice tells the story from multiple points of view and we get to spend time with several of the vampires she’s introduced over the course of the series. In one of my favorite chapters, Lestat meets his old friend Louis de Pointe du Lac in New Orleans. I had fun following their walk through familiar French Quarter landmarks such as Cafe du Monde, Jackson Square, and Pirates Alley. As a long-time fan, this was all great fun, but I could imagine the stream of characters being a little overwhelming for a new reader.

As a fan of the Vampire Chronicles, I enjoyed spending time with Lestat, Louis, Marius, Benji, Gabrielle and the others again. I found this an interesting turn in the story and would be delighted to follow the vampires into another adventure. For people new to the Chronicles, I would suggest they start with the early volumes such as Interview with the Vampire or The Vampire Lestat and read through at least Queen of the Damned before diving into this latest volume.

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.

straight-outta-tombstone

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.