Reading Rainbow

El Paso Comic Con happens this weekend, and one of the people I’m most excited to meet is LeVar Burton. I’m excited to meet him because of his role as Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I’m perhaps even more excited to meet him because of his role as the host of the PBS TV series, Reading Rainbow.

Reading Rainbow ran from 1983 until 2006 and not only depicted books as fun in their own right, but showed the real world adventures books can lead you to. The series suggested many books for my wife and I to share with our daughters. What’s more, I enjoyed watching the show with my daughters. I find it frustrating when I come across a review of a book or movie that claims something to the effect that adults won’t enjoy it, but kids will love it. To me, the best entertainment and information for kids will entertain and inform adults as well. Reading Rainbow succeeded admirably at that mission. I’m not surprised to have discovered that it was the third longest running TV series on PBS after Sesame Street and Mister Rodger’s Neighborhood.

One outgrowth of the show I really appreciated was the “Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators Contest” which encouraged kids to write and illustrate a story, then submit it to their local PBS station where the stories were judged. Winners were sent on to the national contest. My older daughter submitted to three of the contests and was a runner up at the local level in second grade. They brought her down to the TV Station at New Mexico State University where she was presented with her award and a video tape that included one of the local hosts reading her story while showing the illustrations. The contest outlasted the show by three years, which allowed my youngest daughter to enter in its original incarnation. The contest does continue under the name “PBS Kids Go! Writers Contest.”

It disheartens me that certain political factions in the United States want to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides much needed support for Public Television and Radio. The argument is that the programs on these platforms should exist in the free market and not be funded with public money. The problem is that the free market is driven by those items that sell the most units. Entertainment will always outsell education and information, just as candy and processed food will outsell fruits and vegetables. My politics are such that I’m happy to pay for things that encourage the populace as a whole to be smarter and healthier. Even when these things don’t seem to affect me directly, they pay off in the people I interact with on a daily basis.

Reading Rainbow encouraged kids to read and to act on their reading, by writing, playing, and exploring the world around them. LeVar Burton has continued that mission even in the years after Reading Rainbow and has even taken steps to revive the show in some fashion. I look forward to meeting him and to finding out where his adventures will lead him next.

Advertisements

Sisters of the Wild Sage

My parents loved to watch western movies on weekend afternoons when I was a kid. As I’ve mentioned before, I never really saw the appeal until I happened upon the TV series, The Wild Wild West starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. Ostensibly, the show was a mashup of the western with spy shows that were popular in the day, but it also introduced science fictional and magic elements to the western. The Wild Wild West was my first real exposure to the weird western genre.

Another show that changed my mind about the western was the mini-series adaptation of James Michener’s Centennial. The series and book told the story of a Colorado town, showing the continuum of history from the Native Americans who lived in the area through the fur trappers to the early settlers, the farmers, the cattlemen, and ultimately finishing up in the present day, which was 1976 when the book came out. The classic western story exists in a brief moment in history, typically somewhere between about 1870 and 1890 and tends to ignore what led up to that time and what came after.

When Nicole Givens Kurtz asked me a few days ago if I’d like a preview copy of her new weird western story collection, Sisters of the Wild Sage, I jumped at the chance. I already knew Nicole’s talent. I’d published two of the collection’s stories in Tales of the Talisman Magazine. What’s more, her story “Justice” appeared in the anthology Six-Guns Straight from Hell alongside one of my stories and her story “The Wicked Wild” is in Straight Outta Tombstone.

Many of this collection’s stories are set in the mythic old west in a fictional town called Wild Sage, New Mexico. It’s not exactly that 1870-1890 time period. Instead the setting is the very early twentieth century, around the time my own family came to New Mexico, and still a time when New Mexico was very much the Wild West. These stories often tell about African American women just trying to find a peaceful existence in the world but having to deal with men who want to pull them back into the slavery they or their parents had just left behind. Fortunately, these women are often empowered by magical gifts that help them fight injustice.

My favorite of these “traditional” weird western tales was “Belly Speaker” which provides some truly scary twists to the spooky ventriloquist dummy story. “The Wicked Wild” is also a strong story about a cleaning woman who can summon wind having to battle a demon-possessed cowboy. In the collection’s title story, men come to run a pair of sisters from their land. Fortunately, one of the sisters can control plants and the other has a magically accurate aim with her six-gun.

Like Centennial, this collection spans time, giving a more complete view of the west. Stories like “Kq'” feature Native Americans, possibly even before people of European or African descent arrived in the west. Stories like “Los Lunas” and “The Trader” feature magic in the contemporary west. Nicole even takes us to the future in stories like “The Pluviophile” and “Rise.”

I highly recommend Sisters of the Wild Sage. The anthology will take you on a tour of the weird west not only as it existed in the past, but as it might exist in today’s dark shadows and also as it might exist in the future, especially if we don’t take steps to change the world we live in now. You can pre-order Sisters of the Wild Sage at: https://www.amazon.com/Sisters-Wild-Sage-Western-Collection-ebook/dp/B07PBP3S7X/

Dragon’s Fall On Sale

My publisher has placed the ebook edition of my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order on sale for just 99 cents through March 17. It’s billed as book 2 of the series because I wrote it second, but it’s actually the first of the two adventures I wrote about the Scarlet Order vampires and tells their origin story.

This is the tale of three vampyrs. Three lives. Three intertwining stories.

Bearing the guilt of destroying the holiest of books after becoming a vampyr, the Dragon, Lord Desmond searches the world for lost knowledge, but instead, discovers truth in love.

Born a slave in Ancient Greece, Alexandra craves freedom above all else, until a vampyr sets her free, and then, she must pay the highest price of all … her human soul.

An assassin who lives in the shadows, Roquelaure is cloaked even from himself, until he discovers the power of friendship and loyalty.

Three vampyrs, traveling the world by moonlight—one woman and two men who forge a bond made in love and blood. Together they form a band of mercenaries called the Scarlet Order, and recruit others who are like them. Their mission is to protect kings and emperors against marauders, invaders, and rogue vampyrs. The question is, can they survive their battle with their ultimate nemesis, the human known as Vlad the Impaler?

Like my novel The Pirates of Sufiro, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order is a novel comprised of novellas that all tell one over-arching story. The first novella is set in Ancient Greece and tells the story of Alexandria. The second is set in Britain and tells Draco’s story. The third tells how Draco and Alexandra meet. The result is a tale that spans the ages of these immortal creatures.

Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order is available for just 99 cents until March 17 at the following sites:

Podcasting about Astronomy, Steampunk and More

This weekend finds me at Wild Wild West Con, which is being held at Old Tucson Studios just outside Tucson, Arizona. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll make time to join us. We’re having an amazing time. You can get more information about the convention at https://www.wildwestcon.com/

In the run-up to the convention, I was interviewed on the podcast, Madame Perry’s Salon. Madame Perry is a little like Barbara Eden’s character in I Dream of Jeannie. After a lead in from Captain Kirk and Mr. Sulu, she invited me to sit on the cushions in her genie’s bottle. We discussed how reading Robert A. Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love and John Nichols’ The Magic Journey while thinking about the story of my mom’s family set me on the path to writing my first novel The Pirates of Sufiro. We also talked about how working at an observatory and making discoveries in the late twentieth century using nineteenth century instrumentation was an important inspiration for my steampunk writing. Madame Perry asked some great questions. We also had a listener question and a visit from Wild Wild West Con’s programming director James Breen. You can listen to the entire show at: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/madameperryssalon/2019/02/28/author-and-astronomer-david-lee-summers-visits-madame-perrys-salon

While you’re at the site, be sure to navigate up to Madame Perry’s main page. In other episodes, she interviews several other Wild Wild West Con featured artists as well, including cosplayer Tayliss Forge, maker Tobias McCurry, and musical guest Professor Elemental among others. If you can’t make it to the convention, the podcast is a great way to get to know some of the people attending. If you were able to make it Wild Wild West Con, you can listen and learn even more about those of us in attendance!

As it turns out, Madame Perry’s Salon wasn’t the only podcast I visited recently to speak about Victorian astronomy. A while back Jeff Davis invited me to speak on his show about something called the Carrington Event. In effect this was a massive solar storm in 1859 that resulted in a coronal mass ejection hitting the Earth head on sparking electrical disruption through telegraph lines, triggering auroras and making compasses go crazy. I had to admit that I didn’t know much about the Carrington Event, but Jeff recommended I read a great book called The Sun Kings by Stuart Clark.

The Sun Kings told the story of the Carrington Event and how solar observations in the nineteenth century contributed to the rise of modern astrophysics. Among other things, it discussed the advent of astrophotography and spectroscopy and how astronomers began to notice commonalities between the sun and other stars. This really gets to the root of work I’ve done studying RS CVn stars, which are sun-type binary systems where one or both of the stars have massive spots. It also ties into my work at Kitt Peak where I routinely support spectrographic observations.

Jeff’s show is on the Paranormal UK Radio Network. Despite the network title, we didn’t really get into the paranormal, even though the subject does fascinate me. You can listen to my discussion with Jeff at: http://paranormalukradio.podbean.com/

Fallen Angel

I’m proud to announce the release of Hadrosaur Productions’ latest weird western adventure, Fallen Angel by David B. Riley.

Fallen Angel is 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. Although Mabel and Grant get the upper hand before the war ends, the battle of good against evil isn’t won so quickly. Several years later, in San Francisco, Mabel just wants to have fun with her friend Miles O’Malley, when she discovers her sister and the Martians have joined forces with a college fraternity and humanity may be on the dinner menu.

I have a long history of working with David B. Riley and his characters Mabel and Miles. I first published one of David’s stories all the way back in the second issue of Hadrosaur Tales where he sold me the story “The Brother” about a vampire monk. The first Miles O’Malley story I bought was “The Devil’s Chest” which appeared in Hadrosaur Tales 11 published in 2001. Four years later, that story would become a chapter in his novel The Two Devils which he sold to LBF Books. This was during a brief period when Hadrosaur had joined forces with LBF and acted as an imprint for some of LBF’s titles. Because of the arrangement, I served as the novel’s editor.

In the eighteen years since, LBF Books was acquired by Lachesis Publishing and Hadrosaur Productions is now publishing books independently. Fallen Angel is actually the second of David’s books that we’ve published. The other is “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung” which is part of the book Legends of the Dragon Cowboys. Ling Fung actually inhabits the same weird western world as Miles O’Malley. Both heroes have fought Ah Puch, the Mayan god of death.

At his blog over the weekend, David reveals that he got the idea for Fallen Angel from a postage stamp commemorating the Civil War’s Battle of Vicksburg. You can read the full story at http://blog.davidbriley.net/2019/02/a-stamp-saucer-some-martians.html.

David and I both will be at Wild Wild West Con in Tucson, Arizona the weekend of March 8-10, 2019 at Old Tucson Studios. I will have copies of the book at the Hadrosaur Productions booth in the vendor area. If you won’t be fortunate enough to join us, or you just don’t want to wait that long, you can pick up the book from Hadrosaur at: http://www.hadrosaur.com/FallenAngel.php. While you’re at the site, be sure to browse the store link for more of David’s titles along with titles by many other great authors.

A New Cover for The Pirates of Sufiro

As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post, my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, is now 25 years old. I gave Laura Givens the challenge of creating the cover for the anniversary edition. As we spoke about it, we decided to return to the idea I first had for the book’s cover, we decided that it should feature Suki, Firebrandt, and Roberts, the three people for whom the planet Sufiro is named.

We also discussed the background and how the book has a space western kind of vibe. Laura took that idea and created something that looks both futuristic and rough-hewn. I imagine this is Sufiro around chapter four of the previous edition. (In my rewrite, I’ve added a chapter, so it would be chapter five of the new version). This is when settlers from Earth have joined our three marooned pirates and have started to build a town called Succor. Without further ado, here’s a look at the new cover:

Here’s the description from the back of the previous edition: The Pirates of Sufiro is the story of a planet and its people—of Ellison Firebrandt the pirate captain living in exile; of Espedie Raton, the con-man looking to make a fresh start for himself and his wife on a new world; of Peter Stone, the ruthless bank executive who discovers a fortune and will do anything to keep it; and of the lawman, Edmund Ray Swan who travels to Sufiro seeking the quiet life but finds a dark secret. It is the story of privateers, farmers, miners, entrepreneurs, and soldiers—all caught up in dramatic events and violent conflicts that will shape the destiny of the galaxy.

I don’t really expect to make any changes to this description. I am making changes in the new edition, but all of this will still happen. My goal is that if this is the edition of The Pirates of Sufiro that you read, you can still pick up a previous edition of the sequels and not be lost or confused about what happened before. I’m filling in details and I’m hoping the new edition will have a more satisfying structure and be told from more effective points of view.

One of my big realizations while working on the new edition is to see that The Pirates of Sufiro is really a compilation of three novellas. This has helped a lot when thinking about the structure. The first novella tells the story of Firebrandt, Roberts and Suki exploring the planet and making a life there along with the first settlers who join them. The second novella is set a couple of decades later when a new wave of settlers discovers a rare mineral on the other planet’s other major continent and upsets the balance of life there. The third novella happens twenty years later when Edmund Swan arrives, a little like the classic western hero, to set things right.

At this point, I expect the new print and ebook editions will be out around the beginning of 2020. However, you don’t have to wait that long. I’m posting chapters as I revise them to my Patreon site. If you sign on as a patron, you can read the chapters as they’re completed and I’ll give you a link to download the finished ebook when it’s done. What’s more, I’ve been sharing some old artwork and photos from the days when I first wrote the book with my patrons. Check it out at: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Weeds

I’m not a big fan of winter or cold weather, but one thing I look forward to about this time of year is that the weeds in my yard typically die off and I don’t have to deal with them until the spring. Because of that January and February are often quite productive months for my writing and editing. This year, the weeds didn’t die off and I’ve been fighting them all through the winter.

As a writer who also operates telescopes at the National Observatory, I don’t have the kind of income that allows me to hire a gardener. So, this means I get to go out and deal with the weeds myself. Now, it’s not all bad. It gets me out from behind my desk to get some exercise and some sunshine. It also gives me some quiet time to think through plot lines and occasionally come up with blog posts about subjects like the hassles of dealing with weeds in the wintertime!

While weeding, I do find myself thinking that the process is not unlike writing and editing. When you write, you try to get everything you can down on paper. You try to make sure you explain why people do the things they do, what the setting is like, what the people are like, and who knows what about whom. It’s a little like letting a garden grow unchecked. Sure you’ll get blooms or vegetables, but they’ll be stunted by the weeds. As an editor, you’ve got to take out the weeds of the writing. That’s the stuff that isn’t really necessary to move the plot forward. You may move some of the plants you want around to make a better arrangement, or to make them healthier. In writing, that’s just presenting your information in the best order to reveal the information in a satisfying way to the reader.

This winter, I’m editing two terrific books by other authors plus I’m revising one of my own for re-release. I’ll have more news soon about the books I’m editing for others. Those are the supernatural adventure novel Armageddon’s Son by Greg Ballan and the weird western novella Fallen Angel by David B. Riley. The book I’m revising is The Pirates of Sufiro and I’m really excited about the progress I’m making. A lot of the credit there goes to my Patreon supporters. Because I’m answerable to them for the progress I’m making, it’s been motivating me to move forward with that project.

If you click the button above, it’ll take you to my Patreon site where you can browse the posts. Most of the content is just for those patrons who support me, but there is some free content. You can see the first chapter of The Pirates of Sufiro as it was in the most recent published edition and in the revision to see what sorts of edits I’m doing. A little over a week ago, I split one of the original chapters into two chapters because I felt I’d rushed the story in the original. The money I get from patrons helps to pay for cover art, layout and design. And who knows, if I get enough support, maybe I can afford to have someone help with the weeds!