The Judas Contract

My teenage years got off to a difficult start. I lost my dad to a heart attack when I was thirteen. By the time I reached my senior year of high school in 1984, I was pretty much done with being a teenager. This all goes to explain why it was that although I made regular visits to the comic shop and though some of my friends were loving a title called The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, I was pretty much focused on other longtime favorites. I didn’t really discover how much fun the Teen Titans could be until I stumbled on the anime-styled Teen Titans show which ran on Cartoon Network from 2003 to 2006. Even today, I gravitate more toward titles like Justice League Dark, which is what prompted me to pick up the recent Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, when I saw it in the store. The presentation of the Teen Titans in that movie made me curious about their earlier movie appearances, so I picked up the movie Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, which in turn took me back in time to 1984 to read the original graphic novel.

In The Judas Contract, the Teen Titans have a recent recruit named Terra. Most of them have grown to trust her and depend on her. Beast Boy may even be falling in love with her. However, it soon becomes apparent that Terra is not all that she seems. A hallmark of the graphic novel is that this is the point where Dick Grayson first decides to stop being Robin, the Boy Wonder and adopts the mantle of Nightwing, thus allowing Jason Todd to begin his tenure as Batman’s assistant.

It was interesting to compare the movie and graphic novel versions of the story. The movie foregoes the Nightwing story. In the movie, Dick Grayson is already Nightwing. Jason Todd is already dead and Damian Wayne is now Robin and already working with the Teen Titans. The movie starts with the Teen Titans up against a cult leader named Brother Blood. As the movie progresses, we find that the Titans’ longtime rival Deathstroke is working for the cult. In the graphic novel, the conflict with Brother Blood and the conflict with Deathstroke are two separate stories. I love the graphic novel because we get more of Deathstroke’s backstory and more of his connection to Terra. That said, the movie feels like a more rounded and complete story and it also better explores the romance between Nightwing and Starfire.

The movie also contained two episodes of the 2003-2006 Teen Titans series featuring Terra. Those were interesting enough that I went back and rewatched the whole Terra arc from the series’ second season. The Terra in the TV series proves to be quite different from the version in the graphic novel and the movie, but all three versions make an interesting exploration of the concept of betrayal.

I’ve long been fascinated by the character of Judas in the Bible. At the risk of going down a theological rabbit hole, Judas begs many questions. Was he inherently evil? If so, why did Jesus choose him to be an apostle? Just to betray him? Was Judas really a good man? Did he betray Jesus because of free will? In the three versions of The Judas Contract, we see three different interpretations of Terra, ranging from a good person led astray to a person who always was a psychopath. I won’t spoil the story by telling you which is which in case you haven’t delved into these stories and want to explore on your own.

In the story I’m writing, I’m confronting choices like this. Are the good guys what they seem? Are the antagonists really to blame for the events happening? As I reach a point about two-thirds of the way through the outline, I’m going back through and reading what I’ve written and deciding whether I forge ahead as I drafted the outline or if the characters are going to lead me in a new direction. Seeing a story like The Judas Contract explored well in three different ways does help me think about the possibilities. The important thing to remember, and the reason these stories are good, is that all the pieces were in place to tell you why the characters made the choices they did. The hints were there for those who pay attention. So if I do move in a different direction, I need to make sure I’ve also laid that groundwork.

All-Star Dialogue

In earlier posts, I’ve discussed my enjoyment of comics featuring the Justice Society of America. This was the first superhero team to appear in comics. The team made its debut in issue #3 of All-Star Comics in November 1940. I knew the book was created as a way to showcase those heroes who were not Batman and Superman, yet appeared in other titles published by DC Comics and its brother company All-American Comics. In the first Justice Society story, the society exists largely as a framing device. The heroes meet and each of them tells about a recent thrilling adventure. It’s less a team comic and more a way to introduce stories about each of the featured heroes. In the next issue, each hero still had standalone stories, but each story contributed to solving a bigger mystery.

So, what about All-Star Comics issues 1 and 2? These aren’t available digitally, so I had never read them. However, a few days ago, I discovered my local comic shop had a copy of DC’s Archive edition that collects the first two issues. It was even on sale. So, I ran over and picked up a copy.

As one might expect, the first two issues of All-Star Comics were simple anthology comics. They collected individual stories of heroes like the Golden Age Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, and the Spectre. Each hero had their own story and they didn’t meet. As with many Golden Age comics, the stories were simple, but they were fun. The stories were written and drawn by such people as Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, Sheldon Moldoff, and Gardner Fox, people who had a hand in the early days of Superman and Batman and would also help to usher in characters like the Silver Age Green Lantern and Flash.

As it turns out, I rushed out to buy this book while working on a big writing project. I can’t say much about that project at this point, but I can tell you it’s set in 1942, right after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It’s a time period I’m familiar with from the stories of my parents who were teenagers then. Truth be told, I bought the book as a little bit of fun distraction from work. One of the challenges of working at home during a pandemic is that you almost never leave the office!

That said, as I was reading the book, I came to realize it’s set just a little before the events of the story I’m working on. I should pay attention to people’s attitudes and how they speak. If you’re writing historical fiction, it can really help to read stuff written at the time your story is set. Watching movies of the period can help as well.

One of my favorite moments in this book was when they put in an editor’s note to explain what the FBI was. Although the FBI had already existed for several years, it had been a tiny department in Washington DC. It had just recently been expanded under President Roosevelt when the comic was new. More than once, when someone encountered something unusual, they described it as “queer.” It fits the dictionary definition perfectly well, but our modern ears tend to give the word a different meaning. Even Ultraman of the year 2240 is concerned about people being out of work and how a war in Europe will affect life at home. Of course, there’s also more than a little casual racism and sexism in some stories.

I won’t use everything I found in these stories, but the attitudes do reflect those of the period and help me to shape the way my characters speak. It reminds me of attitudes even progressive and forward-thinking people would have had to cope with. Words that are unusual to our modern ears should be used with care, but one or two sprinkled here or there can help transport a reader to a given era. You could do far worse when writing historical fiction to read a few comics of the period, if they existed. You might even have a little fun along the way.

The Literary Bond

Bond. James Bond.

The name is a fixture of the English-speaking pop culture landscape. Films featuring Ian Fleming’s famous spy are so ubiquitous, I find it hard to think of spy thrillers without “hearing” the iconic theme from Dr. No in my head.

This past week, I’ve been working on a short story that’s something of a spy thriller with notes inspired by James Bond. I can’t say much yet about the story or the anthology series it’s written for. The editor wants to keep things under wraps until closer to release and I don’t want to jinx things by saying too much too early. I will say that I do have one story accepted for this series of anthologies and the story I’ve been working on this past week would be the second for the series, presuming it’s accepted.

Writing this story has required a fair bit of research. I’m thankful to live in an age where I can sit at my desk and watch videos that take me aboard an aircraft carrier or let me walk the streets of a land I haven’t visited before. However, there’s another aspect of research that’s not always appreciated and that’s getting the right tone for a story, especially when the guidelines specify an established tone like the one in this series.

Although I’ve seen large portions of most of the James Bond films, catching bits and pieces here and there when they aired on television, I can only recall sitting down and watching five of the films from beginning to end. What’s more, I’m sad to say that until a few days ago, I’d never actually read any of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels. The only Ian Fleming novel I’d ever read was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and that was only a year ago. I did find Chitty Chitty Bang Bang an utter delight and had been wanting to explore Fleming’s Bond novels since then.

I settled on Moonraker as the novel to start with. I picked it because I wanted a novel early enough that Fleming wasn’t being influenced by the films but late enough that he’d established his voice. I also wanted a novel that included a certain technological aspect because of the type of story I was writing. Also, although I enjoy a good card game now and then, I wasn’t sure if I was passionate enough about cards and gambling to stay glued to a novel like Casino Royale.

The novel Moonraker is quite a bit different from the movie. This is perhaps no surprise since the novel dates from 1955. The premise of the novel is that Sir Hugo Drax has been supervising a bunch of German scientists who are building England’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. Drax has become something of a national hero and the first test is imminent. The problem is that Drax is suspected of cheating at cards at the elite gambling club he belongs to. Bond is brought in to tactfully expose the cheating and quietly get it to stop before scandal taints Drax and his project. So, the first third of the book ends up being about Bond figuring out how Drax cheats and then turning the tables on him. This was compelling enough that I may have to give Casino Royale a try after all.

On the same night as Bond is working to prevent a scandal, one of Drax’s German employees shoots the head of security for the Moonraker project then shoots himself. The coincidental timing is enough for higher echelons in the British government to decide Bond should lend a hand to the investigation. It was all a good thrill ride of a novel that reminded me of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, especially when Fleming speaks passionately of good food or fast cars. I was also reminded at times of Robert A. Heinlein’s young adult science fiction novels, especially with the fear that Nazis may be hiding in the woodwork, getting ready to unleash some dastardly plan.

I liked how Fleming’s Bond has a little more self-doubt than his onscreen counterparts and while 007 definitely pursues a woman in this novel, she proves to be a force to be reckoned with. I’m delighted I had the chance to read Moonraker and I suspect I’ll be diving into more of Fleming’s Bond novels soon. After all, I need to make sure I get the tone right in my story!

Revisiting Das Boot

I grew up knowing I had ancestors who came from Germany. What’s more, my uncle married a German woman. I wanted to be a scientist and I knew about a number of German scientists such as Kepler, Einstein, and Heisenberg just to name a few. So when it came to pick a language from my limited high school offerings, I chose German. My high school only offered two years of the language, so when I exhausted those, I was encouraged to take classes at Cal State San Bernardino. During this time, one of the most famous German films was released: Das Boot. The professor of my college German class offered us extra credit if we went to see the movie in German. Several of us went as a group. As with many at the time, I found the movie amazing, stunning, and sad at the end.

My aunt was excited that I had gone to watch a feature-length German film. She contacted one of her relatives in Germany and had them buy a hardcover copy of the original novel and send it to the US. She gave it to me as a Christmas present. It’s still one of my treasured possessions. I’m sorry to say I have not taken the time to wade through and read the whole thing, but I was delighted when I recently picked it up and discovered my German is still good enough to follow the gist of the story.

Writers are often told to “write what you know.” This can be tricky for science fiction writers. That said, we should pull from our experience to make what we imagine as believable as possible. One of the reasons Das Boot was fascinating to me was how real it made serving in a cramped, enclosed ship. Much as I loved the Star Trek-like future of grand, beautiful starships, I couldn’t help but think the reality of military space ships would look more like the U-96 in Das Boot than Captain Picard’s spacious Enterprise. When I started writing the stories that would become the foundation of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series, I made space vessels cramped and claustrophobic with crews who got on each others’ nerves.

Back in the days when I first saw the movie Das Boot, I’d heard rumors of a longer version than the one we saw in the United States. It turns out this was a 5-hour cut broadcast over five nights on British television in 1984. This cut (more or less) was eventually released in the United States as “The Original Uncut Version” shown above. I bought it a few years ago, then promptly moved to a new house where it disappeared under a stack of other videos. I finally found it again and watched the five-hour cut.

I have to say, I was impressed. The longer cut didn’t drag at all. What it gave us were more character moments. The 1980s American theatrical release focused on the captain, the chief engineer, and the war correspondent. The longer release gives us a chance to know the first officer, the third officer, the navigator and the radio operator much better. The crew began to feel even more like a family, albeit a dysfunctional one at times.

I’ve come to realize that space travel would be unsustainable if spaceships were as small and crowded as a World War II-era U-boat, but still, thinking about how they ate, the jobs they were assigned to, the “human” touches that made the sub a little more livable than sterile are all things that help me think about how to design space vessels in my writing. If you want to see how I’ve brought that into play, a good place to start is book one of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series, Firebrandt’s Legacy. You can learn more at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html

Fun with Text-to-Speech

This week, my wife and I have been proofreading the Hadrosaur Productions editions of The Astronomer’s Crypt and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires before these books are uploaded as ebooks and sent to the print vendor. Last week, my wife presented me with the code to upgrade Microsoft Office on my desktop computer. I upgraded the edition and began to look through the menus, making sure I knew where familiar features were located. Fortunately not much has changed, but I did accidentally stumble on the text-to-speech option while I had The Astronomer’s Crypt manuscript open. So, I decided to let it read a page or two to me. My first thought was that this is what it would be like for Stephen Hawking to read me a story. It was a fairly flat reading. Despite that, I found it surprisingly listenable. As it read over a section I had already approved, I noticed it skipped over a word. I looked closer and discovered that it had not skipped. I had omitted the word. Specifically it was a small one, the article “a.”

I began to think this could be a handy tool for proofreading. So I started playing it while I read over the formatted manuscript. Now then, I normally do a “read aloud” pass when I edit my manuscripts. However, if I get too much into the flow of the story, I can “read” words that should be there but actually don’t exist on the page. Also, reading it with my inflections means that I can overlook some weak, repetitive prose by placing the emphasis where I want it. The problem is, my intention may not match what another reader will see on the page. The upshot is that the flat reading of the Text-to-Speech actually proves useful because it helps me hear how well the prose itself is doing its job.

Not surprisingly, text-to-speech has limitations. If you write fantasy or historical fiction, be prepared for the program to mispronounce names. However, there’s a neat element to this. It will mispronounce those names the same way. Every. Single. Time. While going through Dragon’s Fall, I looked at names on the page and thought they were correct, but the text-to-speech program read the misspelled version differently than the correct version. This caused me to look closer. Humans have a tendency to read with visual clues, so a name like Myrinne will look very much like Myrrine when you read it on the page, but the text-to-speech program pronounces them differently.

Text-to-speech is functionality that has been part of Word processors and operating systems for a little while, so it’s possible this may not be new to many people, but if it is new to you, I recommend you give it a try and see how you like it as a tool. If you do give this a try, I recommend reading along on the page while the program reads to you. It’s hard to “hear” the difference between commas and periods, for example, but the program will make it clear when you have one of those in the wrong spot!

I have found that Text-to-Speech is enabled in Word 2019 and in Adobe Acrobat (though I found its interface is a bit clunky to use in Acrobat.) I gather it’s also enabled in the Mac edition of Scrivener, but it does not exist in the PC edition. Word 2019 gives you a nice “play/pause” button so you can stop when you hear a problem. If you get lost while the program is reading, I recommend pausing, going back to where you last were following and start again.

I’ll wrap up today’s post with an update about the books mentioned above. Lachesis Publishing has started to pull their editions of the books from publication. Last I looked, the only vendor that hasn’t pulled them down is Apple, but hopefully that will happen soon and I can begin uploading my editions.

Celebration in Isolation

In my post one week ago, I mentioned that my family was celebrating numerous anniversaries and milestones. It should come as no surprise that these celebrations had to be adjusted in the wake of restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, we did our best to mark the occasions in a suitable fashion.

Before I continue, I note that as I write this, the death toll from COVID-19 approaches 100,000 in the United States. I’m very sorry for those who have lost loved ones at this difficult time. At the same time, I’m grateful to all those who take social distancing guidelines seriously so that we don’t find ourselves in an even worse situation.

Last week, my wife and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Looking it up on line, the thirtieth is the Pearl Anniversary. Because my wife and I are fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, this brought to mind Dr. Pearl Forrester, the evil genius who sent cheesy movies to the Satellite of Love during the show’s SyFy Channel years. With this in mind, my wife and I decided to get each other Mystery Science Theater 3000-themed gifts. We ended up getting the two Netflix seasons of the show along with a 1000-piece puzzle to work on together.

Although it wasn’t technically an anniversary present, the same day as the puzzle and movies arrived in the mail, my wife bought me the code to upgrade my copy of Microsoft Word to the 2019 version. I discovered that the software has a feature that will read the text to you. I’ve long been an advocate for reading your own work aloud when you edit, but this is a nice additional tool. It has already helped me find unintended commas or wrong words in documents I’ve edited. This looks like a nice feature for an author to add to their toolkit and I likely will say more once I gain more experience with it.

Normally we would go out to dinner for our anniversary, and while there are some restaurants opening up with some seating, we decided this wasn’t the time to do that. We grilled steaks for our anniversary and then ordered a to-go meal from one of our favorite restaurants two day later when our daughter graduated from high school.

Las Cruces High School held a “drive-thru” graduation. Parents drove the graduating seniors through the line in cars. My daughter wanted me to drive her through in my Smart Car with its airship pirate logos. A masked and gloved staff member handed out the papers and flowers. I drove the car, so this marked the first time I went through a graduation procession since my own university graduation.

I wrapped up last week with another interview at Las Cruces Community Radio Station 101.5FM KTAL-LP. “All About Books” host Lynn Moorer interviewed me about my novel Firebrandt’s Legacy. Even though this was an in-studio interview, we maintained good social distancing. We sat well over 6-feet apart and she made sure to clean the chair and microphone I used. In the interview, Lynn was especially interested in the jumps ships in my universe use to move faster than the speed of light. My means of faster-than-light travel was an idea I came up with while studying General Relativity in grad school at New Mexico Tech. You may listen to the entire interview at: https://www.lccommunityradio.org/archives/all-about-books-david-lee-summers9615141

You can learn more about the novel, read a sample chapter, and find out where you can obtain a copy of your own at: http://davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html

Greg Ballan Interview

This past weekend, I had a wonderful opportunity to talk to Greg Ballan, author of the Hybrid: The Ethereal War duology which I’ve had the honor to edit and publish. The novels are Armageddon’s Son and Battle Lines. These books tell the story of Erik Knight, a detective who was born with alien DNA which gives him terrifying super powers. In the Ethereal War novels, Erik finds himself literally caught between the forces of heaven and hell.

We recorded our conversation and I have posted it to YouTube. I made each question and answer a separate video, so if you just have a few minutes, watch the introduction, then come back and watch the others as you have time. This is an interview you don’t want to miss!

In the first video, I ask Greg to tell readers about the Hybrid: The Ethereal War novels.

In the second video, I ask Greg to tell us about his protagonist, Detective Erik Knight.

Next, I ask Greg to tell us how he brought a new twist to the idea of the war between Heaven and Hell.

In the earlier videos, Greg mentions Erik Knight’s mentor, Martin Denton. In private conversations, Greg has told me that Martin was inspired by his father. I asked him to give me more details about that.

Of course, Greg has written other novels besides those in the Hybrid: The Ethereal War series. He tells us about them in this next segment.

As we begin to wind down the interview, I ask Greg what science fiction he’s watching now.

Finally, I wrap up the interview by asking Greg the question about what side he takes in the ultimate battle: Star Trek or Star Wars?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at Greg Ballan and his thoughts on writing. You can learn more about his books by following the links:

Discovery’s Enterprise

Last month, in my post about sending work to readers and artists and waiting for replies, I mentioned that I’d started work on a model I received for Christmas. The model was the Starship Enterprise as it appears in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery.

No matter your profession, I think it’s vitally important to do things outside your professional interest, whether it’s crafts, hobbies, sports, music, or some combination. Building models has long been one of my favorite past times, though I don’t get to engage in the hobby quite as much as I’d like.

This particular model proved to be a bit of a challenge. Actually building the model was quite simple. There weren’t that many parts, but it was both small and the whole thing is covered stem to stern in water slide decals. You can see them in the photo of the box’s side.

Before applying the decals, I had to decide whether or not to paint the model. The model itself was molded in a shiny gunmetal gray, which is pretty well captured by the box art. Even though I thought it was a little dark and shiny to be screen accurate, I was just going to run with it, but as I inspected the pieces, the flow lines from where the plastic had been poured into the molds was a little too obvious for my taste, so I painted the whole thing a flat, dark aircraft gray, which I think looks just a little more like the ship as shown in the show.

To me, the challenge of decals is getting them to slide into just the right position, stick to the model instead of sticking to me and then hoping they’ll settle into all the contours they’re supposed to. For the last couple of models I’ve built, I used a decal setting solution to help. This stuff is just a mild solvent (almost certainly vinegar from the way it smells) and a very light glue. This helped quite a bit on this model, but there were a lot of nooks and crannies the decals needed to settle into and the setting solution wasn’t quite enough for the job. I decided to try a product I’ve heard about for a while called “Micro Sol” which is similar to the setting solution, except that it has a slightly stronger solvent. I have to say, it worked extremely well. To use it, after the decals were on and dry, just brush on the Micro Sol and let it do the work. After a couple of hours, the decals really soften and settle into place.

I think the final model turned out quite nice, as shown above. As you might notice from the box lid at the top of the post, the model is distributed by a company called Polar Lights and they are known for creating lighted kits. This kit did not have lighting and it was small enough that I didn’t really want to light it. Instead, I picked up some glow-in-the-dark paint and applied it inside the clear domes and places where I wanted a glow. The paint I picked up is an acrylic and there’s some danger of acrylic paint flaking off plastic. In hopes of staving that off, I gave the acrylic a quick top coat of gloss clear lacquer paint. So far, it worked well. Time will tell how it does in the long term!

As I said at the outset, I think it’s important for any professional to have activities outside of their professional life. These activities often pay dividends for us in our work. For me, this model reminded me it was all right to go out of my comfort zone and learn how to improve my work with decals. It reminded me that it’s okay to improvise and try new things like experimenting with the glow-in-the-dark paint. I don’t know for certain how these things will pay off in my writing or astronomy life, but keeping my mind limbered up and flexible is useful in both.

After NaNo

I’m sorry to say I didn’t get a chance to participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. My daughter did give it a try and I’m proud that she managed to make good progress on a project she’s working on. For those who don’t know about the National Novel Writing Month, every November writers are challenged to write 50,000 words in a month. Because I’m in the midst of commissioning two instruments at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I didn’t think I could commit to that amount of writing during November this year. However, I have participated twice before and both of my NaNoWriMo novels ultimately became published works.

While 50,000 words is a good amount of a novel, it’s shorter than what most genre publishers are looking for. Some publishers are happy to see young adult books around this length, but even they tend to want at least slightly longer. Also, the organizers of NaNoWriMo encourage authors not to spend time revising their works during the month. The goal is just to get 50,000 new words down on the page. So, how do you go from 50,000 unedited words to a novel you’re willing to submit to a publisher?

I first learned about NaNoWriMo from Jackie Druga, who owned LBF Books, which had just purchased my novels Vampires of the Scarlet Order, The Pirates of Sufiro, and Children of the Old Stars. She challenged me to try my hand at writing a novel in a month. I decided it was time to actually write a novel I’d started twice before, but gave up on called The Solar Sea. The reason I’d given up on this novel twice before is that I didn’t know quite what it wanted to be. Was it an adventure novel? Was there more of a suspense element? Should it be for adults? The 50,000 word length and being a parent of two young daughters inspired me to approach this new start as a young adult novel. I’d thought about it so much over the previous fifteen years, I had really clear pictures of the characters, so writing it was easy. When I got to the end of the month, I had a more-or-less complete novel. It needed spelling and grammar cleaned up. It needed details fleshed out. I ran it by three or four beta readers. I even read it aloud to my daughters and was pleased to see how much the story held them, but even at a young age, they pointed out places where they wanted more. By the time all was said and done, I had a 65,000 word novel and LBF said they were willing to publish it. If you want to see the result, you can learn more about the current edition at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

Because things had gone so well, Jackie encouraged me to participate in NaNoWriMo again the next year. This time, my project was much less defined. I knew I wanted to write a prequel to my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order and I had a rough idea of what the story would be. I set out on the journey to create the book that would ultimately become Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. I did finish 50,000 words, but I was left with the feeling that I had far from a complete novel. I liked the opening, but felt like the book was beginning to meander toward the end. I also didn’t feel like it had a good focus. In this case, I set the novel aside until I had some idea of what to do with it.

I believe about two years passed. I made a few half-hearted attempts at editing, but was never quite sure what the book was missing. By that time, LBF Books had been purchased by Lachesis Publishing and LeeAnn Lessard approached me with the idea of writing five vampire novellas with erotic overtones. It occurred to me that my NaNoWriMo attempt to could be adapted into three of those. As I thought about what the other two novellas could be, I found a new opening that gave the whole project focus and an overarching theme. With that in mind, I was able to find an ending that became the final novella. Ultimately, those five novellas were published under one cover and called Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. Each of the novellas is a part of the story set in a different time period. As the story evolves, the vampires of the story become romantically involved. In this case, it helped to give myself some distance from the original creation and to get some input that gave me a slightly different approach. By the time I fleshed out the middle and added a new beginning and end, I had a 94,000-word novel. If you’d like to learn more about this novel, visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

To all of you who made good progress on a project this year during NaNoWriMo, I salute you! I wish you the best as you polish your work and help it find its final form.

Music Through the Ages

Even if I hadn’t been working this year, I’m not the kind of person to stand in line for Black Friday deals. That said, I did take advantage of one Black Friday special this year and I’m glad I did. It was the download of Abney Park’s New Nostalgics and in retrospect, I would have been pleased with this album if I’d paid full price for it. This album is comprised entirely of songs from the early 20th century covered in modern style by the band Abney Park. There are songs about airships, burlesque halls, and how people who built the modern world often aren’t the ones who see its benefits. What makes the download really special is a 20-minute “documentary” by the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Robert Brown, where he plays snippets of the old recordings of the songs and then follows that with how he updated them for a modern audience. You can pick up the album in the music downloads section at http://abneypark.com/market/

Music has always been an important part of my writing. Often, when I write, I like to have instrumental music on in the background that captures the mood of what I’m trying to create. In fact, one of the things I like about Abney Park is that they provide instrumental-only versions of many of their albums and I use those a lot when I’m writing steampunk or retrofuturistic fiction. I also like to collect soundtracks of favorite films or TV shows. Listening to those can be a great way for me to get into the proper mindset for a given scene, whether it be romance, action, or suspense.

While I prefer to listen to instrumental music while I’m in the process of writing, I love listening to songs from a period of time I’m going to write about as part of my research for historical fiction. It provides a valuable window into the things that brought joy and sadness to previous generations. You can often catch slang terms people might have used. If you catch an odd turn of phrase in an old song, it’s often worth looking it up to see if it had a broader meaning. Maybe it’s something you can use in your story. In setting a scene, I often like to describe the kinds of music people are listening to. Even if I don’t mention a particular song, I like to mention the kinds of instruments people heard.

That covers the past, but what about the future? While part of me loves it when a science fiction character espouses their love of David Bowie or Dolly Parton, part of me groans. While I hope these artists will still be known two or three centuries down the road, I’m pretty sure they won’t be mainstream. People in the future will be writing and singing their own songs. They’ll write about their own heroes, like Jayne in Firefly’s “The Hero of Canton” or the ballads sung about Edmund Swan in my novel The Pirates of Sufiro. There will be new musical forms and maybe even alien instruments. As a writer, you don’t necessarily have to write these songs, but you can add some color by mentioning them and talking about how they make the characters in your story feel.

With that, it’s time for me to go listen to some good music and find some inspiration. If you would like to see how I write about futuristic music, you can read The Pirates of Sufiro by subscribing to my Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers