Last Call – Exchange Students

Editor Sheila Hartney and I have been enjoying reading the wonderful submissions that have been coming in for Hadrosaur Productions’ forthcoming anthology, Exchange Students. Although we have a full anthology at this point, we are willing to be tempted by a few more good stories and could make room for a truly exceptional story or three. That said, this is last call. We will be closing to all submissions on October 15, 2019. Any submissions received after the 15th will not be considered. The illustration below is a sneak peak at the cover art by Laura Givens.

Exchange Students is an anthology to be published by Hadrosaur Productions that will explore the vast realms of what it might mean to be an exchange student at any point in time, space, or across dimensions. Most of us have known foreign exchange students in our school years. This anthology imagines an exchange student program expanded to include students from the past, the future, fairies, trolls, distant alien races, and any other exchange student the author might dream of. The complete guidelines are available at: http://hadrosaur.com/ExchangeStudents-gl.php.

I’m really excited by the breadth and diversity of stories we’ve selected so far. The thing that makes an anthology compelling to me is to see what authors do with the concept. We have serious stories that take a good hard look at humanity and we have humorous stories. We have flash fiction that hits us with a cool idea and we have longer stories that allow us to get to know the characters better. Longtime readers of Tales of the Talisman Magazine will recognize some familiar names, but I’m pleased that we have many new authors as well.

At this point, I hope I’ve whetted your appetite and you’re now asking when you can get your own copy of the anthology to read. My goal is to publish this by February 15, 2020, so I can have it available at the Hadrosaur Productions dealer’s table at Wild Wild West Con in March 2020. The book will also be available in all popular ebook formats through vendors such as Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble.

Plotting by the Seat of my Pants

Should you plot your stories with meticulous care or should you write spontaneously and see where the muse takes you? I know writers who have an almost religious devotion to each approach and there are certainly pros and cons to each approach. My ability to plot stories before I write them has helped me make sales before I’ve taken the time to actually compose them. In this case, plotting can effectively become a pitch. An editor might solicit an idea from me. Afterwards, I go away and think about it for a time and then throw some ideas about how I would handle the story to the editor. The editor then gives me feedback on what works and what doesn’t work. This can be a very exciting process and it’s one I recently went through with an anthology editor and it’s also how I created the outline for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. Hopefully I’ll be able to share news about the story I just wrote before the year is out.

Those who write by the seat of their pants argue that you don’t always know your characters when you start. The more you write, the more you understand their motivations. If you plot, there’s a danger you force your characters to take actions that aren’t true to them as they’ve developed. That’s a valid point, and one of the ways I counter that is to treat my outline more as a set of goals than as a detailed roadmap. For a short story, it tells me what my characters are going to do to set them off in a direction. It suggests complications they may encounter along the way. I don’t always write an ending. Instead, I think of ways the story might end depending on who the characters turn out to be. It’s exciting when I get to the end and the characters do something I don’t quite expect because its right for them. That happened to me this last week and I like the ending much better than any of the ones I actually plotted in advance.

In a novel, the plot points are a little more defined, but again, I try to keep them general enough that they serve as complications the characters encounter. There is a challenge if the characters diverge far enough from the original conception that they don’t encounter the complications laid out for them. At that point, there’s no choice but to revisit the outline. Figure out what path the characters are on and see whether there’s a way to get them to encounter the original complications or see if you just have to create new ones altogether.

Now, if an outline serves as the basis for a pitch, what happens if the story becomes very different from the outline? This is something I don’t worry about too much for two reasons. First off, good editors are more concerned about finding good stories than assuring your story perfectly matched the pitch you gave them. If the story works and doesn’t violate any guidelines, you’ve still got a really good chance of selling the story to an editor who solicited one from you and liked the pitch. Second, when you make your pitch, you’re not likely to give the editor your entire outline. Mostly you’re laying out the initial situation and the problem the characters are going to be faced with along the way. If you resolve those issues in a different way than you envisioned, no problem. The editor doesn’t necessarily know that. Again, what the editor will care about is whether or not the story works.

For pantsers, I recommend trying your hand at plotting a story or two. It could prove a lucrative and useful skill down the road. For plotters, I recommend leaving enough room in your outline to let your characters breathe and do things you didn’t quite expect. You might be surprised at the result!

Return to Bisbee

On the weekend of August 17 and 18, the Tucson Steampunk Society invaded the mining town of Bisbee, Arizona, a picturesque town a few miles south of Tombstone. This is the second year in a row I was able to join the group. As it turns out, I joined them after spending two weeks in a row at Kitt Peak National Observatory, so this provided a nice respite from my “day” job. As with last year, there were only a few scheduled events, making this a weekend where steampunks could meetup, relax, and actually socialize with one another. One of several highlights for the weekend was dinner at the Travellers Camp at Juniper Flats in the mountains above Bisbee. Here’s the whole group in a photo.

Photo courtesy Pete Mecozzi. Visit him online at:
https://petemecozziphotography.mypixieset.com/

In this case, the Travellers refer to “displaced people of Irish origin” and they provided a delightful supper of vegetable soup, chicken, and flat bread with herbs and bacon. They also provided wonderful Irish music.

After dinner, we moved on to another highlight of the weekend, the PG PJ Potluck Parlour Party. Like last year, I was invited to regale the attendees with a story. I read my story “The Zombie Shortage” which appears in the anthologies Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie edited by Carol Hightshoe and then was reprinted in The Many Tortures of Anthony Cardno, edited by Anthony R. Cardno. As I mentioned in my recent post about editing and ego, it’s not always possible to read an audience, but I was pleased to find the audience laughing along with me as I read my wicked little tale that asks what happens should we suffer the zombie apocalypse, put the zombies to use, and then run out of zombies.

In fact, if you want to listen to the reading, Jim Springer of the Creative Play and Podcast Network recorded it and you can listen to the reading at: https://creativeplayandpodcastnetwork.podbean.com/e/a-reading-from-zombiefied-an-anthology-of-all-things-zombie-by-david-lee-summers/

One of many fun things about the Bisbee Inn where the steampunks gathered is that it’s also part of several ghost tours. Because of that, there’s a rather suspicious looking mannequin in the entryway. I have to pass him several times before I remind myself he is a mannequin and not a person. Perhaps one of the most delightful moments from the weekend came when I learned the Tucson steampunks had officially named the mannequin “Egon” after the assistant character in “The Zombie Shortage.”

Over the course of the weekend, I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Frank Goglia and his son, Joseph, of Meridian Books and Comics in Bisbee. He has a great stock of books and comics and after this weekend, he now has a few of my books. If you’re in Bisbee and you’re looking for some great reading, be sure to visit the store!

I find weekends like this are a vital part of recharging my creative energy. In fact, just before the weekend, I had received an invitation to pitch a story idea for a shared world anthology. Before the weekend, I almost dreaded pitching a story. It wasn’t so much a case of writer’s block as burn out from a long work shift and feeling the weight of several other projects that also needed attention. After the weekend, I saw several places to jump in and after several good emails with the anthology’s editor, I had a direction. Since then, I’ve turned my general story direction into an outline. As it turns out, this outline has no ending, but that’s fine. At this point, I see at least three possible endings all depending on who the characters reveal themselves to be when I actually write the story.

At this point, it’s a little too early for me to say much about the story itself. I want to wait and see if the editor likes the end result. What I will say is that the story is set in the past, but it’s not steampunk. Of course, there are many people who now want to carefully classify exactly what brand of retrofuturism a story explores. If it’s World War I era, it’s dieselpunk. If it’s the 1920s, it’s jazzpunk. If it’s after World War II, it’s atompunk. My story’s set in the 1980s, an era I lived through, so with tongue embedded in cheek, I’ll declare it punkpunk for now.

Now that my batteries are recharged, I just need to get ready for another week at the observatory, some editing work, then I can turn my attention to actually writing this story that I’m excited about thanks in no small part to my friends in the Tucson Steampunk Society.

Last Call for Summer/Winter Sale

The Smashwords Summer/Winter ebook sale ends tomorrow. After that, all of the Hadrosaur Productions books return to regular price. What I like about buying books from Smashwords is that you can download them for your your favorite device, whether it be a Kindle, a Nook, a Sony ereader, or your tablet or phone. What’s more, they’re DRM free, so you can copy them to multiple devices without worrying about whether or not it’s an “approved” device.

Our weird westerns are on sale for 50% off this month. These include one of our newest books, David B. Riley’s Fallen Angel, which tells the story of Mabel, an angel from Hell, who accompanies General Grant’s army during the last days of the Civil War only to discover that Martians are watching the Earth with envious eyes and slowly drawing their plans against us. Not only that, but Mabel has to contend with her evil sister, who wants to have humans for dinner. This books is only $1.50 at Smashwords while the sale lasts.

Legends of the Dragon Cowboys brings you two weird western adventures by authors David B. Riley and Laura Givens. Their heroes ride boldly out of the Far East to find their way in a mythic land of danger, romance, and adventure. Their heroes encounter Mayan gods, Native American spirits, Yeti, Voodoo despots and more! The Wild West just got a lot wilder! This book is only $2.00 at Smashwords during the sale.

You can learn more about these books and get direct purchase links at: https://davidleesummers.wordpress.com/2019/07/09/hadrosaurs-weird-westerns-on-sale/

Other books available for 50% off the cover price include Armageddon’s Son by Greg Ballan, Sugar Time by Joy Smith, and Revolution of Air and Rust by yours truly.

In Armageddon’s Son, ex-CIA Agent Erik Knight is recruited to assist his mentor, Martin Denton, in discovering the identity of the mysterious thief who stole the Ruby Crucifix of Christ from the very heart of Vatican City. In order to solve the mystery, the agents must accept that the world as they know it is mere illusion, hiding a brutal physical and spiritual war of ‘Good’ versus ‘Evil’. You can snag this book for just $2.00 this month!

In Sugar Time, you’ll meet Sugar Sweet. When her Uncle Max falls ill and his collaborators disappear, she investigates the old Victorian mansion where he conducted his research. She soon finds the collaborators — or what’s left of them — along with an angry Neanderthal. She also finds her uncle’s research project, a working time machine. Get this book for just $1.50 this month.

Revolution of Air and Rust is set during 1915 when the American Expeditionary Force has invaded Northern Mexico. Pancho Villa leads his revolutionary army in a desperate raid against the American force only to be outflanked. Just as American airships prepare to deliver the death blow, Pancho Villa is transported to a parallel Earth where he finds an unexpected ally and the technology that might turn defeat into victory. This book is available for just $1.50.

Learn more and get direct links for purchasing these books at: https://davidleesummers.wordpress.com/2019/07/16/adventures-through-time-and-space/

One of my tasks this month has been to investigate how the results of NASA’s Kepler and K2 missions have influenced science fiction. One direct result are the two Kepler anthologies I had the pleasure to edit with NASA’s own Steve B. Howell. Like the other books featured this month, they are half off the cover price.

A Kepler’s Dozen presents thirteen action-packed, mysterious, and humorous stories all based on real planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission. Get this anthology for just $2.00 from Smashwords.

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 the Kepler’s Cowboys of the title. Saddle up and take an unforgettable journey in this anthology of science fiction stories about planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission. The follow-up anthology is only $2.50 for today and tomorrow.

You can get the direct links to purchase these books by visiting: https://davidleesummers.wordpress.com/2019/07/23/celebrating-keplers-success/

Last but not least, my own science fiction novels are available at Smashwords through the end of the month for just $1.00. That’s a full 75% off the cover price!

In The Solar Sea, whales around the world changed their songs the day scientists announced the discovery of new particles around Saturn’s largest moon which could solve Earth’s energy needs. The Quinn Corporation rushes to build a solar sail space craft to unlock the secrets of these strange new particles. The crew makes a grand tour of the solar system and discovers wonders and dangers beyond their imagination.

Space pirate Ellison Firebrandt is already a force to be reckoned with when he discovers a remarkable new drive system and meets a woman who can help it reach its full potential. You can read about their adventures in Firebrandt’s Legacy.

Direct links for these books are at my post: https://davidleesummers.wordpress.com/2019/07/02/celebrating-the-future/

Celebrating Kepler’s Success

Over the course of nine years, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope helped astronomers discover more than 2700 planets. What’s more, the telescope collected so much data that almost a year after the mission’s completion, astronomers are still discovering planets. As each new planet was unveiled, we’d see an artist’s rendering, especially if the planet was deemed of general interest. In 2012, Dr. Steve Howell took the job of Kepler Project Scientist. Soon after, he came to me with an idea for visualizing planets in a much more immersive way than simply painting a picture. He wanted to see science fiction authors tell stories about the planets Kepler was discovering. That led us to create two anthologies about Kepler’s planets.

The annual Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale is underway. It gets its name because where I live in the northern hemisphere, readers are loading up their e-readers for great beach reading and vacations. In the southern hemisphere, it’s the middle of winter and people are spending time in a warm and cozy place reading. This is a great opportunity to celebrate the Kepler Space Telescope’s success by offering our anthologies for half off the cover price! Read on for more details!


A Kepler’s Dozen is an anthology of action-packed, mysterious, and humorous stories all based on real planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission. Edited by and contributing stories are David Lee Summers, author of The Pirates of Sufiro, and Steve B. Howell, project scientist for the Kepler mission. Whether on a prison colony, in a fast escape from the authorities, or encircling a binary star, thirteen exoplanet stories written by authors such as Mike Brotherton, Laura Givens, and J Alan Erwine will amuse, frighten, and intrigue you while you share fantasy adventures among Kepler’s real-life planets.

“… the stories represent a glimpse of where science fiction might go if real exoplanets are taken as inspiration.” Melinda Baldwin, Physics Today

You can buy A Kepler’s Dozen for half off the cover price at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/325583


  • 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!

“If you’re in the mood for science fiction that’s heavy on the science, pore over this enjoyable collection that takes exoplanets and the American West as its inspirations. The stories and poems in Kepler’s Cowboys imagine wild and risky futures for the first generations of exoplanet explorers as they grapple with harsh environments, tight quarters, aliens, and one another.” Melinda Baldwin, Physics Today.

Kepler’s Cowboys is available for half off the cover price at Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/698694

Adventures Through Time and Space

Books are one of the great ways to explore realities that might have been or could yet happen. These stories tell us about ourselves. By looking at the past and seeing what might have been different if certain conditions were changed, we understand a little more how we reached the present day. By looking to the future, we can explore worlds we’d like to visit as well as ones we’d like to avoid in the wrong set of circumstances. In all cases, we learn a little bit more about our spiritual selves and where that side of ourselves might have originated.

The annual Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale is underway. It gets its name because where I live in the northern hemisphere, readers are loading up their e-readers for great beach reading and vacations. In the southern hemisphere, it’s the middle of winter and people are spending time in a warm and cozy place reading. This is a great opportunity to offer our books for half off the cover price! Read on for more details!


In Armageddon’s Son, the forces of Light and Dark wage war on and above Earth as each side seeks human allies to advance either the destruction or salvation of an ignorant mankind. In one bold, desperate act, an agent of Chaos has stolen the most powerful and coveted holy relic from the very heart of Vatican City, The Ruby Crucifix of Christ. This powerful relic was carved from the very cross where the savior was nailed, and is stained with His blood. This holy relic is said to be the instrument to end Armageddon and herald a new age of Man.

Ex-CIA Agent Erik Knight is recruited to assist his mentor, Martin Denton, in discovering the identity of the mysterious thief and locate the stolen relic. The agents soon realize the clergy of Vatican City have secrets and political schemes surpassing even Washington DC’s politicians. In order to solve the mystery, the agents must break through the papal code of silence and accept that the world as they know it is mere illusion, hiding a brutal physical and spiritual war of ‘Good’ versus ‘Evil’. As Erik Knight digs deeper into the mysteries of faith, he realizes his own alien ancestry is linked to biblical prophecy. Is he the fabled ‘Armageddon’s Son’?

Armageddon’s Son is available for half off the cover price at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/928557


Sugar Time is a collection of four connected short stories. Our protagonist’s name is Sugar. Sugar Sweet. But never EVER call her ‘Sweetie.’

When Sugar’s Uncle Max falls ill and his collaborators disappear, she investigates the old Victorian mansion where he conducted his research. She soon finds the collaborators—or what’s left of them—along with an angry Neanderthal. She also finds her uncle’s research project, a working time machine. Sugar must act quickly to unlock the secret of time travel so she can set things right and protect her uncle’s research.

Sugar Time is available for half off the cover price at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/567992


Revolution of Air and Rust is a stand-alone novella set in the Empires of Steam and Rust world created by Robert E. Vardeman and Stephen D. Sullivan. A story filled with millitary action, espionage and gadgetry that’s sure to satisfy fans of steampunk and alternate history.

1915. Teddy Roosevelt is building an empire. Only Pancho Villa stands in his way.

The American Expeditionary Force under the command of General “Black Jack” Pershing has invaded Northern Mexico. Pancho Villa leads his revolutionary army in a desperate raid against the American force only to be outflanked. Just as Pershing’s airships prepare to deliver the death blow, Pancho Villa is transported to a parallel Earth where he finds an unexpected ally and the technology that might just turn defeat into victory.

“This novella takes place in 1915 in a steampunk world where the Mexican rebel Pancho Villa is the good guy and his arch-enemy Black Jack Pershing is about to crush the Villa revolution. Pershing has a fleet of airships and an invading army and seems certain to win … That’s the basic situation in this fast moving and gripping story by David Lee Summers.” Neal Wilgus, The Supplement.

Revolution of Air and Rust is available for half off the cover price this month at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/254622

Practice Makes Perfect

I spent last week at Kitt Peak National Observatory assisting with the installation of the Dark Energy Spectrographic Instrument on the Mayall 4-meter Telescope. We spent a couple of months running the refurbished telescope through its paces on the sky with a simple commissioning camera and now it’s time to finish installing the complete instrument. As we get ready to install this complex array of 5000 robot-positioned fibers that feed ten spectrographs, I find myself thinking of the old saw “practice makes perfect.” Well, how exactly do you practice building and installing an instrument no one has built and installed before? As it turns out, there are ways to do this.

One of the major tasks this week has been “dummy” petal installation. The photo above shows a view of the 4-meter telescope from the top. We’re facing the primary mirror (which is covered with white covers that say “Danger: No Step”). In front of that, and right in front of the camera is the prime focus assembly. The 4-meter mirror focuses light into the prime focus assembly. In the old days, a camera sat there. Now there will be 5000-optical fibers aligned with objects on the sky by robot positioners. Those robot positioners are quite delicate and take up a lot of room, so a test petal has been created. The petals fit in the pie-shaped wedges you see in the photo. The dummy petal is the one with Swiss cheese, like holes. It’s carefully guided into position by the red mechanical assembly. Lasers are used to make sure the petal is positioned very carefully and put in at just the right place. Here’s what one of the real petals looks like.

The entire fiber petal sits in the silver box. The black structure on the right is the same size and shape as the Swiss cheese dummy petal. Behind that is a tightly packed array of delicate fibers. The real petal above will have to be placed precisely without breaking anything. So, in this case, we practice by creating a mockup to try out all the procedures and check that we know what we’re doing before we start installing all the really delicate, expensive instrumentation. There will be ten petals like the one in the photo above and light from their fibers will go down to ten spectrographs two floors below the telescope. We currently have six of those spectrographs installed in a clean room.

Currently, three of the spectrographs are in the lower layer of racks. Three are in the upper layer of racks. The spectrographs are where the real science happens. Light that comes down the fibers is spread apart into a literal rainbow and we can see the characteristic fingerprint of the chemical elements of the objects that each fiber in the spectrograph is pointed to.

The spectrographs and the petals remind us that practice makes perfect when you do things repeated times. We’re practicing with the dummy petal, but then we’ll install ten real petals. We’ve installed six spectrographs and we have four more to go. Each time we take another step forward, the easier the process becomes.

Of course, practice made perfect on our way to building these spectrographs in the first place. We built other, smaller fiber spectrographs and learned lessons from their construction. We’ve learned about robotics and we’ve learned lessons from other people who also work in the field by following their work.

Writing is much like this. You practice by doing. You might start with some short stories to get the hang of writing. Then you might try your hand at a novel chapter, then you’ll write another. All the while, you should keep reading to see what others are doing and have done. You’ll learn techniques as you try them out. You will likely encounter difficulties, but as you keep reading, you’ll be sensitive to those difficulties and you’ll see how others have solved them. This is just one of the ways that science has taught me to be a better writer and being a writer has taught me to be better at the science work I do.

You can learn more about my writing at http://www.davidleesummers.com