Tucson Festival of Books 2018

This weekend, I’m having fun at Wild Wild West Con at Old Tucson Studios in Tucson, Arizona. If you’re in town, I hope you’ll drop by and join the fun. You can find more information at: https://www.wildwestcon.com/.

Next weekend is the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona. It’s a free event running from March 10-11. There are vendors and exhibits spread across the University of Arizona mall. There are also presentations about the craft of writing by many of the top writers working today in the lecture halls near the mall. Among the featured writers are Amy Tan, Dave Berry, J.A. Jance, and Douglas Preston.

I’ll be involved in two presentations at the festival.

Saturday, March 10 – 10am to 11am – Scientists Who Write Science Fiction – Integrated Learning Center Room 141. Jim Doty and I, who are both real-live practicing scientists who use our knowledge to write science fiction, will talk about our process.

Saturday, March 10 – 4pm-5pm – Magical History – Student Union Santa Rita. I’ll be moderating this panel in which Gail Carriger, Beth Cato and Mindy Tarquini, authors of novels filled with magic and mystery will discuss alternative earth histories where magic, the paranormal or time travel are real.

In both cases, I’ll have my books along and can sell and sign them after each of the events. One thing that’s especially exciting about the Magical History panel, is that Beth Cato is a long-time contributor to Tales of the Talisman magazine, so I’ve long followed her work.

As it turns out, I also know Gail Carriger after we did several panels together at Gaslight Gathering in San Diego. Here we are on one of the panels at Gaslight Gathering.

One of the big events the festival is touting is a concert by the group called The Rock Bottom Remainders. They’ll perform on March 10, immediately following the festival’s close. This is a band formed by several bestselling authors. Those members at the festival are Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Gary Iles, Mary Karr, Ridley Pearson, Amy Tan, and Scott Turow. The outdoor concert will be at Jefferson Field. There will be food trucks, a cash bar, and plenty of space to dance!

If you’re in Tucson next weekend, I hope to see you at the Tucson Festival of Books. You can get more information by visiting https://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/

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Wild Wild West Con 2018

It’s time once again for Wild Wild West Con, which has grown into one of the largest, regular steampunk conventions in the United States. I will be there giving presentations, running a workshop, and on panels. I will be vending in the Stage 2 Dealer’s Area with the ever fabulous Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake and Dr. Sparky McTrowell.

This year’s Saturday night concert features DEVM and Abney Park. There will be tea dueling, make and take workshops, fun activities for kids, plus all the regular attractions of Old Tucson Studios. Old Tucson is the place where many famous western films were made including Rio Bravo, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and Tombstone. It’s fabulous to see these famous western sets occupied by people in steampunk attire. It always gives me another year of steampunk inspiration.

I will be at Wild Wild West Con all three days. My schedule is as follows:

Friday, March 2

    2pm – Steampunk Authors – Panel Tent. The authors of Wild Wild West Con will gather to discuss their experiences, the state of the genre, and how you can succeed as a Steampunk author. Diesel Jester and I will be there for sure. We’ll see who else we can round up to share the stage with us!

Saturday, March 3

    11am – Robots are from Mars. Dinosaurs are from Venus – Courtroom Center. This presentation is a look at the astronomy of the Victorian era, what people thought life on alien planets was like, and how it influenced the science fiction of the day, and perhaps introduce you to some authors you’ve never heard of before!

    2pm – Meet and Greet – Aristocrat Lounge. Diesel Jester and I are scheduled for an author meet and greet, open to those folks who purchased Aristocrat tickets to the convention. It’s a great chance to sit down, have a cool drink, and ask us questions. Who knows? Maybe you can persuade us to read something to you!

Sunday, March 4

    12pm – Dinosaurs and Robots in Verse – Chapel. I will be leading a poetry workshop. I have a few exercises and fun prompts that will let you create your own poems about steampunk robots, dinosaurs and more. Also, I will note that poems created at these workshops have gone on to achieve publication.

Also at the convention this year will be Hadrosaur Productions author David B. Riley who will be presenting several panels. His book Legends of the Dragon Cowboys will be available at our table.

Wild Wild West Con is being held in Tucson at Old Tucson Studios during the day and at the Doubletree Hotel, Tucson Airport this Friday through Sunday, March 2-4, 2018. For more information about the convention, visit http://wildwestcon.com

Rodeo Day

I’ve been working days this past week at the Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak. The telescope is undergoing a roughly year-long refit to equip it with a 5000-fiber spectrograph which will be used to obtain optical spectra for tens of millions of galaxies and quasars, constructing a three-dimensional map spanning the nearby universe to 10 billion light years. This week, much of our work has been disassembling the telescope to prep it for new parts coming this year. In the photo below, you see the top end of the telescope with all the optics removed. That entire top end will be removed and replaced with the fiber optics which will then direct light to spectrographs some four floors below.

This past week was also a short work week. For most people in the United States that was because Monday, February 19 was President’s Day. Even though Kitt Peak is a federal contractor, we actually don’t take President’s Day as a holiday. Instead, we get Rodeo Day the Friday after President’s Day.

Before I continue, allow me to make a brief aside. I’ve mentioned before that at Kitt Peak, we work through most holidays. I should clarify that we are on sky, observing almost every night of the year. Telescope support staff such as telescope operators, electronic maintenance technicians, and even kitchen staff only take off Christmas Eve and Christmas. However, Kitt Peak also maintains a large support staff of mechanics, electricians, carpenters, and heavy equipment operators, most of which get weekends and regular holidays off. The refit work at the Mayall mostly requires this larger team of employees, so it follows a more familiar weekday schedule.

So, where did Rodeo Day come from and why is it so important in Tucson? Apparently, it started in 1925 when the president of the Arizona Polo Association, a fellow named Leighton Kramer, paraded a group of trick riders, folk dancers, and marching bands through downtown Tucson to the University of Arizona’s polo field where they held a community sponsored Wild West show and rodeo. That first rodeo featured steer wrestling, steer tying, calf roping, and saddle bronc riding. The rodeo’s official name is La Fiesta de los Vaqueros.

Over the years the event grew and it became tradition for Tucson schools to give kids the Thursday and Friday of rodeo weekend off. I think it goes to show the importance of rodeo in the Southwestern United States that it can supplant even President’s Day in some communities.

The Spanish name for the Tucson Rodeo, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, reminds us that rodeo’s popularity isn’t limited to the Southwestern United States. It’s actually quite popular throughout central and South America. When I visited Chile in 1998, the driver for Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory made a point of taking me by the rodeo grounds in La Serena. He noted that it was perhaps the second most popular sport in La Serena, right behind Soccer. I’ll also note that CTIO is actually a United States Observatory in Chile and the Blanco 4-meter outside of La Serena is, for all intents and purposes a twin of the Mayall 4-meter on Kitt Peak.

As it turns out, this whole business of rodeo being important to the people I work with in the astronomy business is one of the influences on my story “Calamari Rodeo” which appears in the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys. You can learn more about the anthology at http://www.davidleesummers.com/Keplers-Cowboys.html.

Road Trip to New Orleans

The Airship Ambassador’s Steampunk Hands Around the World event is going on a road trip and exploring new places. One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing when writing my Clockwork Legion books is visiting places around the world and imagining them with a steampunk twist. So, I thought it would be fun to visit some of the places that appear in the novels and share my connection to them. For this final post in the series, I’m going to the Big Easy—New Orleans, Louisiana. Unlike Tokyo in my last post, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting New Orleans several times.

The fourth novel in the Clockwork Legion series, Owl Riders, opens with Ramon and Fatemeh living in a flat in New Orleans. The approximate location I imagine is near site of the Boutique du Vampyre, which is near the corner of St. Ann and Royal Streets. The Boutique is well worth a visit for fans of Gothic literature and lifestyle. It is full of amazing curiosities and I have it on good authority that some of my books are on the shelf there as well.

Ramon works at the building that would have housed the United States District Court in 1885, which was the U.S. Custom House. The building still stands and it now houses the Audubon Butterfly and Insectarium in the French Quarter.

Fatemeh surreptitiously owns a pharmacy in New Orleans. Her ownership is surreptitious because women weren’t allowed to own pharmacies in New Orleans in 1885. On the books, the establishment is owned by her assistant, Picou, but everyone knows who really runs the Blessed Life Apothecary. I had a lot of help visualizing Fatemeh’s business when I visited the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. It’s a fascinating place and well worth making it at a time when they’re giving their guided tour.

The novel actually opens with Ramon and Fatemeh paying a visit to the World Cotton Exposition which was held in New Orleans staring in the winter of 1884. The exposition buildings no longer stand, but the site is Audubon Park in New Orleans, which is a great place to go for a stroll. It’s right across the street from Tulane University. If you continue through the park, you’ll arrive at the Audubon Zoo.

New Orleans with its old-fashioned charm, magic in the air, and party atmosphere makes a grand setting for steampunk and Gothic stories. I’m glad I’ve gotten to know the city and I look forward to more visits in the future.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this final steampunk road trip stop. Owl Riders is due for publication later this spring. While you’re waiting for the book to be published, be sure to check out the first three novels in the Clockwork Legion series at http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion. There are omnibus editions of the first three volumes available for one low price as well as the individual books and ebooks. You can also visit the Owl Riders page at http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html and preview the novel’s first chapter today!

Road Trip to Tokyo

This is my third stop on the Airship Ambassador’s Steampunk Hands Around the World road trip exploring different places in the world of steampunk. One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing when writing my Clockwork Legion books is visiting places around the world and imagining them with a steampunk twist. Because of that, I’m visiting some of the places that appear in the novels and share my connection to them. Today’s stop is a place I’m sorry to say I haven’t actually visited, but dearly want to. Tokyo features prominently in book three of my Clockwork Legion series, The Brazen Shark.

Because my imagination and the requirements of plot and character development don’t always feel constrained by my travel budget, I’m grateful that there are resources which allow me to travel not only across the ocean but back in time. Here’s a public domain photograph of Yokohama in the 1880s that I shared in a blog post back at the end of 2014:

What I like about this photo is how much the scene looks like many U.S. cities of the same period. There are wooden buildings, a gas lamp, and dirt streets. Of course, there are elements of this photo that seem very unique to Japan, such as the rickshaws and the banners hanging over the doors. I love how people are just going about their business, like the two guys on the right just chatting about some long forgotten subject. Some people are striding with purpose. Others are just hanging out.

Here’s another photo I like. This photo shows Kyobashi. According to Wikipedia, the photographer died in 1898 and this is supposed to be a nineteenth century street scene.

One of the themes in The Brazen Shark is an exploration of the way in which Emperor Meiji’s “Restoration” was a transition from old feudal Japan to a new, modern vision of Japan. I introduce scientists and inventors who want to bring this about, but I also showed that they’re working in a city where this is all new and exciting. One new element I introduce are automata, used as servants to escort visitors around the city. I also introduce Japanese airships.

In these photos, I see people walking and taking rickshaws through the streets. I see horse-drawn streetcars. I see someone carrying baskets. I see horses and masonry buildings. As long as I keep in mind what would and wouldn’t be in this scene in the time period of my novel, the photos serve as a tool to help me describe nineteenth century Tokyo. One possible anachronism in the second photo is the guy in the straw hat in the lower left. That suit just says 1901 to me more than 1880!

I didn’t just use old photos to visit Meiji era Japan, I also used books written at the time. Books, of course, are one of the most tried and true means of traveling to new places and new times! One of the most important books I used was Gleanings in Buddha Fields by Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn was a reporter born in Ireland who immigrated to the United States. He lived for many years in New Orleans before moving to Japan and raising a family. His writings provided a wonderful insight into daily life of people in Meiji Era Japan. Hearn also provided something of a literary bridge and a fictionalized version of the author appears in Owl Riders during his New Orleans days as the chronicler of Ramon and Fatemeh’s adventures up to the events of Owl Riders.

I’ll wrap up this road trip to Tokyo with one other observation. I often seem to encounter the notion that no one has made a truly great steampunk film. I don’t feel that’s true. I’d argue that Japanese filmmakers have done a great job. For example, Hiyao Miyazaki has made several great steampunk films including Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Princess Mononoke. Also, Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the cyberpunk masterpiece Akira, made the strong steampunk film Steamboy. Anime played a part in my research for The Brazen Shark as well. In this case, I turned to the anime of Rurouni Kenshin. I gather the anime worked hard to get the historical background of Meiji Era Tokyo right. I didn’t necessarily use the show as a primary resource, but as a way of better visualizing the look and feel of the time and place.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this steampunk road trip stop. If you would like to explore The Brazen Shark and all the places visited in the novel, you visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/brazen_shark.html to get more information and find all the places the novel is available.

Road Trip to the Dragoon Mountains

Today, we have another Arizona stop on the Airship Ambassador’s Steampunk Hands Around the World Road Trip. I enjoy giving places I’ve visited and read about a steampunk twist in my Clockwork Legion novels. Today’s stop is a dramatic place on Interstate-10 in Southern Arizona that I imagine many people drive by with barely a glance: The Dragoon Mountains. The Dragoons feature prominently in book two of my Clockwork Legion series, Lightning Wolves and in book four, Owl Riders.

As it turns out, I drive through the Dragoons just about every week on my commute to and from work. Some of these photos are from 2014 when I made a stop to refresh my memories about some of the details of the region while preparing the novel for release.

The Dragoons are very dramatic and rocky mountains. They were also the source of real-life wild west drama. The Apache Warrior Cochise defeated a company of Confederate dragoons there in 1862 and stole their cattle. Hence the name of the mountains. The Confederates and the Apaches clashed again just a few days later and the soldiers reclaimed their livestock. Twenty years later, during Wyatt Earp’s famous Vendetta Ride, Earp’s posse captured and killed “Indian Charlie” Cruz in the Dragoons.

Lightning Wolves is set between these two historical events. In the novel, many of the soldiers who would normally have been in the area have been called to fight a Russian invasion in the Pacific Northwest and the Apache Warrior Geronimo has set up a stronghold in the Dragoons. Needless to say, this makes some of the remaining settlers, such as Newman Clanton and his sons very nervous. In the middle of all this is exiled Mexican inventor M.K. Maravilla and the bounty hunter Larissa Crimson, who are in the area building a mining machine for a pair of prospectors. What happens makes the Gunfight at OK Corral look like a petty squabble.

As it turns out, I revisit this setting in book four of the series, Owl Riders. This fourth novel is set eight years after Lightning Wolves and the Apaches once again use the mountains as a place to make their stand against white settlers. This time, they are armed with battle wagons based on Professor Maravilla’s mining machine and they face off not against the Clantons, but Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

Since we’re in the neighborhood, I’d be remiss not to drop down to the town of Tombstone. The scene of one of the wild west’s most famous gun battles might not seem very retrofuturistic, but the city of Tombstone is very welcoming to steampunks who want to strut their stuff in parades such as the Helldorado Days Parade in October. Also, Tombstone is a veritable shopper’s paradise for Victorian era clothing that you can use when building your steampunk wardrobe!

Steampunks on Parade in Tombstone

I hope you’ve enjoyed this steampunk road trip stop. If you would like to explore Lightning Wolves and all the places visited in the novel, you visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/lightning_wolves.html to get more information and find all the places the novel is available.

Road Trip to the Grand Canyon

This year, the Airship Ambassador’s Steampunk Hands Around the World event is going on a road trip and exploring new places. One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing when writing my Clockwork Legion books is visiting places around the world and imagining them with a steampunk twist. So, I thought it would be fun to visit some of the places that appear in the novels and share my connection to them. For this first post, I’m going to the Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona.

A lot of steampunk has a very urban and gritty feel set in places like London of the nineteenth century. However, in my novel Owl Dance, I introduced Professor M.K. Maravilla, an engineer and naturalist who builds machines to mimic the animals he studies. Because of that, you don’t tend to find him in urban environments, but out in nature. In Owl Dance, Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi encounter the professor at the Grand Canyon.

The reason the professor is at the Grand Canyon is that he’s built ornithopters in the shape of owls so he can study how they fly. An ornithopter is an aircraft that flies by flapping its wings like birds. I actually had the idea for the ornithopters from a visit to canyon and seeing California Condors gliding on the canyon’s air currents. This was especially amazing to me because I grew up in California and remember a museum exhibit that discussed how California Condors were near extinction. I never figured I would ever see them in real life, yet I saw them flying and swooping over the canyon and couldn’t help but think how much fun it would be to be them, swooping and flying over the canyon.

The reason I used owls instead of condors in the story is two-fold. First off, the condors were introduced to the canyon as part of a breeding program to help increase their numbers. Even in 1877, while there likely would have been condors in the canyon, their numbers wouldn’t have been numerous. Second, Professor Maravilla develops an interest in owls from his association with Fatemeh Karimi. So, the interest had a direct narrative connection.

Back in 2015, while at Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium, artist Laura Tempest Zakroff was selling her art next to us. I admired her wonderful artwork and commissioned an illustration of Professor Maravilla’s owl ornithopter. You can see her work above. In the novels, the professor sells the ornithopters to the army and the industrialist, Captain Cisneros, also develops his own version. The owl ornithopter in Laura Givens’ cover for Owl Riders is different from Tempest’s design, but Givens’ design reflects several years of in-world development!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this steampunk road trip stop. If you would like to explore Owl Dance and all the places visited in the novel, you visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html to get more information and find all the places the novel is available.