Revising the Past and the Future

Today, I’m signing books at COAS Bookstore at 317 North Main Street in Las Cruces, New Mexico from 10am until noon. I’ll have copies of all my recent releases including The Astronomer’s Crypt, Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales, and Kepler’s Cowboys. If you’re in the neighborhood, hope you’ll drop by for a good book. Don’t forget, the holidays are right around the corner and signed books make terrific gifts! The Las Cruces Farmer’s and Craft Market takes place right outside.

This week got off to a good start when my college roommate Ken Silsbee and his wife Melissa came to visit my family for an evening in Mesilla. We went to La Posta, which is something of a landmark in the area. The building was erected in the 1840s and started service as headquarters for a freight and passenger line. After the Civil War, it became a stop on the Butterfield Stage Line and during the 1870s and 1880s, it became the Corn Exchange Hotel, which is briefly mentioned in the first novel of my Clockwork Legion series, Owl Dance. Across the street is the building that housed the courthouse where Billy the Kid was tried. It was good to see Ken again. He’s currently serving as the Alumni Association President for our alma mater, New Mexico Tech, in Socorro, New Mexico.

Most of this week has been devoted to revising book four of the Clockwork Legion series, Owl Riders. I have beta reader notes which are helping to point out some of the book’s remaining rough edges. I’m a fan of good food and I like sharing that in my books, but one of my beta readers pointed out that mealtime comes just a few times too often in the novel. I’m working to cut that back. After all, we don’t want the characters to put on too much weight! Of course, I also love to give my books a sense of historical veracity, but I’ve come to realize that my book is populated with more historical characters than I absolutely need. At least a couple of them are moving off stage to give the stars of the book a little more opportunity to shine. I’m making good progress on the revisions and at this point, I plan to have the book turned into my publisher in the first week of November.

Even with revisions on the novel keeping me busy, I did make time to revise another tale for my collection of space pirate short stories, Firebrandt’s Legacy. This story was “Hot Pursuit” which first appeared in the collection A Kepler’s Dozen. It’s been fun revisiting these stories, putting them in order, and making sure the stories are consistent with each other. It’s also been fun to add in bits and pieces that show more of the characters’ growth with time. As this project goes on, I’ll be adding some new stories to the mix to make it a more complete story arc. As a reminder, you can read the first story at my Patreon site: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. If you support me there, you can see each additional story as its revised or written. Of course, supporting me there also helps to support all my writing endeavors including this blog.

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Las Cruces Book Signings

For my friends here in Las Cruces, I hope you’ll join me today for my signing and informal discussion of “Fountains of Blood” from the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone at the NMSU Campus Bookstore from 1:00-3:00pm. I’ll also have copies of Owl Dance and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order if you want to know more about the characters who appear in the story.

If you can’t make that, or you’re looking for books I didn’t have available at the NMSU signing, I’ll be at COAS Bookstore downtown next Saturday, October 21 during the Farmer’s Market from 10am until noon. Noon isn’t a hard cut off, I’m happy to stay as long as there’s a demand, but don’t delay!

The picture above is the poster I made for the signing. It features a sneak peek at the trailer we did for The Astronomer’s Crypt. Claire is looking out the control room door, considering whether or not to investigate the strange noises she’s heard. If things stay on schedule, we’ll be debuting the trailer at TusCon in Tucson, Arizona next month.

As the poster implies, the primary focus of the signing will be on The Astronomer’s Crypt since it’s such a great book for getting into the Halloween spirit. I’ll also have my other books along with me, including Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. As always, if there’s a book you’re looking for and you’ll be there, drop me a note in the comments and I’ll make every effort to have it available.

Colonel Albert Fountain Meets Carmilla

In the cemetery behind my house is a gravestone with no body underneath. I see it almost every day I’m home when I take my daily walk through the neighborhood. Albert J. Fountain was the fourteenth lieutenant governor of Texas, serving during the reconstruction years of 1871-1873. After he finished his term, he moved to Mesilla, New Mexico. He’s probably most famous as Billy the Kid’s defense attorney in 1881. His interest in the infamous Lincoln County War and other cattle disputes continued. In 1896, Fountain was on his way home from collecting affidavits about people involved with cattle rustling. He was traveling with his eight-year-old son Henry. Fountain was 57. The two disappeared in White Sands. All that was found was a buckboard and a pool of blood.

It’s long been suspected that Fountain and his son fell prey to those men he investigated. I once read that Fountain’s wife encouraged him to take his young son, feeling that no one would be monstrous enough to harm a small child. Something about that always felt just a little naive given the reputations of cattle rustlers. I also thought it seemed naive of Fountain to agree. He was certainly not inexperienced and had lived through difficult times.

When David Boop asked me to submit a story for the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, my thoughts went immediately to the Albert Fountain disappearance. What fantastical explanations could I come up with for the event? What if Fountain took precautions to assure he would be safe? I also thought about Albert Fountain as an older father. In the 1800s, being almost 50 years older than his son, did he worry about the possibilities of watching his son grow up? Those questions along with the pool of blood led me to thoughts of vampires.

As it turns out, the novel Dracula would not be published until a year after Fountain disappeared. That’s when it occurred to me that the novella “Carmilla” by Sheridan Le Fanu had been published in 1871, and collected into the book In a Glass Darkly with other stories in 1872. It’s not clear how widely the book was distributed in America, but it’s certainly possible it was known.

I used “Carmilla” as a way to introduce my protagonists to the concept of the vampire while they’re attempting to solve the disappearance. One of the things that appeals to me about Carmilla is the way the vampire is almost phantom like, stalking her victim in dreams. The novella also raises interesting possibilities about child vampires long before Claudia appeared in Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire.

So, how exactly do vampires relate to the disappearance of Albert and Henry Fountain? I’ve dropped several big hints in the description above, but the best way to know is to pick up a copy of Straight Outta Tombstone to find out.

Also, one week from today on October 14, I’ll be at the New Mexico State University Bookstore at 1400 East University in Las Cruces from 1:00-3:00pm for an informal discussion of “Fountains of Blood” and a book signing for Straight Outta Tombstone. I’ll also have copies of Owl Dance and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order along with me, if you want more adventures from the characters in my story. I hope I’ll see lots of my Las Cruces friends at NMSU next week!

Tucson and Las Cruces this weekend!

This coming weekend I’ll be signing books in both Tucson, Arizona and Las Cruces, New Mexico. Details about both events are below.


Saturday, September 16 – Tucson, Arizona

    Time: 1-3pm
    Location: Bookmans East at Speedway and Wilmot


I’ll be participating in the Free Thought Fest at Bookmans East. From the Bookmans’ website about the event: “Literature is all about expression, ideas and the sharing of reality. The brilliance of a great writer is that they can carry the reader into foreign soil, territories only traversed in the mind. The reader becomes an interloper, an explorer, an omniscient being that careens through landscapes of imagination carried by the whims of our creator—The Author. Bookmans stands firmly in the belief that no one has the right to inhibit your travel. Only you should be able to decide how your passport is stamped. So if you are looking for experience, adventure, education and expansion of the mind, help us support some of Tucson’s finest local authors at our Free Thought Fest.”

Among the authors on hand will be Jessica Feinberg, Natalie Wright, and Natasha Cover. There will be many other authors as well. From past experience, it pays to arrive early to the event so you can have time to browse all the authors’ work. Also, don’t stop with the authors at the front of the store, Bookmans often places authors throughout the building. If you come to have books signed and don’t see me at the front of the store, please come looking!

For more information about the event, visit: http://bookmans.com/events/free-thought-fest-anti-censorship-month-bookmans-east/


Sunday, September 17 – Las Cruces, NM

    Time: 2-4pm
    Location: Thomas Branigan Memorial Library Roadrunner Room

The Celebrate Authors Event publicly celebrates the talent, hard work, and achievements of southern New Mexican authors. Booktalks, displays, and book signings by authors will promote the diversity and excellence of literary talent throughout our community. Refreshments will be provided as well.

There will be twenty-four authors attending, including Stan Blitz, Win Jacobs, Deanna Dickenson McCall, and Michelle Wing. I attended this event last year and it was a great chance to meet authors from Las Cruces who work in many different genres and learn about their work.

For more information about the event and to see photos from last year, visit: http://libraryfriendslc.org/celebrate-authors/

Working on the Holidays

There has been a lot of backlash lately against retailers being open on Thanksgiving in the United States, and I’ll admit, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Scrooge-like corporate executives who fear making a little less profit because they’ve given their employees some time with family. However, even if every retailer remained closed on Thanksgiving, there are a lot of people who would have to work, and I’m truly grateful for them. Some of those folks are pretty obvious, such as the doctors and nurses who work in the Emergency Room, fire crews, and utility workers. Will you be watching one of the big Thanksgiving ball games or perhaps the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Marathon? If so, be grateful for the people running the television stations and keeping the Internet up and running. Speaking of those games, there are the people who keep the stadiums clean, run the concessions, and sell tickets.

WIYN-2

As it turns out, Kitt Peak National Observatory does not close down for Thanksgiving either. The universe doesn’t take the day off, and neither do the astronomers who study it. This year, I lucked out and my schedule gave me the entire Thanksgiving weekend off work, which is a nice change of pace. I’ve had plenty of years where I’ve had to work all of the weekend or part of it. The photo above is from Thanksgiving 2013, when my daughter kept me company in the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope’s control room. The observer, Dr. Louise Edwards, was working remotely from Yale University taking spectra using the computer. Dr. Edwards communicated with us using Skype and it actually provided a neat opportunity for my daughter to interact with a woman who not only works in the sciences, but was featured on a Canadian postage stamp.

This brings me to one last group—those who work on the holidays simply because they enjoy it. I may have the weekend off from the observatory, but I’m in the home stretch of working through edits on The Astronomer’s Crypt and I have an exciting story idea that brings members of the Clockwork Legion and the Scarlet Order together that’s clamoring for me to write. Yeah, I’ll be making some quality time to hang out with family and friends, but you can bet that I’ll also spend some time working on these projects because, darn it, they’re fun. In fact, not getting a chance to work on these projects would almost feel like a punishment.

Another thing I enjoy is getting out to meet all of you. Because of that, I plan to be in Tucson on Saturday, November 28 at Bookmans on Speedway Boulevard from noon until 2pm for Tucson Writes. November is Shop Local-Give Local Month and Bookmans is celebrating by bringing in a number of local authors to sell and autograph their books. This is a great way to do some shopping for the holidays and get to know many local authors. I’ll have copies of all my novels there. If you’re in Tucson next weekend, I hope I’ll see you there!

Summer at Kitt Peak

In a typical year, July and August bring monsoon rains to Arizona and New Mexico. The rain is much needed in the desert, but it does mean poor observing conditions for most of those two months. Because of that, the observatory typically shuts down its major telescopes for ongoing maintenance and upgrades that help keep them state of the art.

WIYN in Rain

Those of us who work principally at night, often get a more relaxed schedule, which enables us to take vacation time. When we’re at work, we often get a chance to lend a hand on projects around the observatory. This past week, I worked during the daytime, helping with a couple of projects at the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope. One of those projects was cleaning, tuning, and testing the actuator control cards on the back of the WIYN telescope.

Actuator Work

Here you see the back of the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope. Each of those disks at the back are attached to a motor and a rod, which deform the telescope’s primary mirror so it has the optimal shape, no matter where it’s pointed in the sky. With time, the electronics in each of those actuators becomes less reliable.

So, for example, the WIYN primary mirror weighs about 4200 pounds. When working properly, the actuators should measure that weight pretty accurately. However, with wear and tear, they reached a point where they were measuring the weight as 4570 pounds. As I write this, we’ve tuned about about one third of the cards and now the weight is reading 4370 pounds, much closer and an indication that we’re doing much-needed work. Here’s one of the control cards in its test bench setup.

Actuator Card

Another project I helped with this week was upgrading the drives for the filter arms on the One-Degree Imager at WIYN. In essence, the whole objective of having a camera on a telescope is to accurately measure the amount of light coming into it from distant stars and galaxies. However, visible light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow. Red light, blue light, and violet light are all jumbled together. So, the best way for us to measure light accurately is to take black-and-white pictures with colored filters in front that allow light of precise frequencies to pass through.

The One-Degree Imager has filters that are approximately one-foot by one-foot square. It takes a lot of force to move those pieces of glass and hold them rigidly in place.
ODI-Filters In the photo on the left, you’re looking down on the filter arms. The filter arms used to be held in place by a series of gears. However, the force required to move those arms was so great, the gears were literally grinding themselves to dust. So the gear system has been replaced by a system which utilizes a chain drive like that you might find in a motorcycle! You can see the chain on the bottom of the photo. I’m looking forward to the new observing season when we get to use this new filter drive system. It promises to move and hold the filters much better than the old system.

Another project that’s moving forward is the Extreme Position Doppler Spectrometer which NASA is contracting for the WIYN telescope in order to support space missions searching for planets around other stars. This week, I was asked if I would provide input into how to practically operate this device. It sounds like I’ll learn more this autumn, but I’m looking forward to the challenge and hoping I’ll have something good to contribute which will both help achieve the mission objectives and make it a user-friendly instrument.

In the meantime, I have not forgotten my literary endeavors. I just finished editing a four-short story collection called Sugar Time written by Joy V. Smith. Hadrosaur Productions published an audio book edition some years ago, but this will be an ebook and chapbook containing the four original stories with new cover art by Laura Givens. Look for more details in next week’s blog post.

Also, if you live in New Orleans or will be visiting on the weekend of August 22, please drop by Boutique du Vampyre in the French Quarter between 3 and 6pm, where I’ll be signing copies of Vampires of the Scarlet Order and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order.

Phoenix Comicon 2014

Dave-Comicon-2013

Phoenix Comicon will be held June 5-8, 2014 at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Guests include Stan Lee, Bruce Campbell, Nathan Fillion, Adam West, Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, and many many more. Once again, I’m honored and humbled to be there among such a great lineup. You can get all the details about the event at phoenixcomicon.com.

I’m doing a mix of science, steampunk, and poetry programming. Here’s my schedule as I know it. I’ll update this as it evolves and be sure to check in at the event for any last-minute updates. I expect to be on hand for the entire event. When I’m not at a scheduled event, look for me at booth 2429 in the exhibitor area.

Friday, June 6

  • 1:00-2:30pm – Signing – AZSPS/WWWC Exhibit. I’ll be hanging out with the Arizona Steampunk Society for a little while on Friday to talk about my steampunk books and sign them. I expect to have copies of the new edition of Owl Dance on hand and hopefully some news about Lightning Wolves.
  • 6:00-7:00pm – Celebrity Nerd Poets – North 127ab. Just how does one become a “Celebrity Nerd Poet”? Come on out and ask the Celebrity Nerd Poetry slam judges that very question. They’ll talk about their writing, the history, the local community, and poetry slams.
  • 7:30-8:30pm – Nerd Poetry Slam – North 127ab. Tthe Nerd Poetry Slam provides everyone the opportunity to share their love of pop culture in verse. Hosted by The Klute, everyone is encouraged to write a poem.
  • 9:00-10:00pm – Future Exploration – North 124a. What missions does NASA have planned for the near and far future?

Saturday, June 7

  • 10:30-11:30am – Science Fiction and Fantasy Poets – 127c. Join this panel of science fiction and fantasy poets for some samples of their poetry and discussion of the craft.
  • 1:00-2:30pm – Signing – AZSPS/WWWC Exhibit. I’ll be hanging out with the Arizona Steampunk Society for a little while on Saturday to talk about my steampunk books and sign them.
  • 7:30-8:30pm – Careers in Science – North 122ab. For those aspiring to have a career in science, technology, engineering, or math, advice on schooling, the outlook on career opportunities, and what life in those fields can be like.
  • 8:30-11:00pm – Drinks With Authors – Salon 5-8. Join many of the convention’s author guests for a glass or two in an informal setting. There will be door prizes and other giveaways from our participating publishers.

Sunday, June 8

  • 12:00-1:00pm – Crowdsourced Science – North 124b. Want to search for exoplanets? Discover cures for diseases? Look for alien signals? Believe it or not, these are real scientific endeavors that you can participate in! Learn how!
  • 1:30-2:30pm – Signing – AZSPS/WWWC Exhibit. I’ll be hanging out at the Arizona Steampunk Society Exhibit for a little while on Sunday to talk about my steampunk books and sign them.