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.

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Research in Writing: Reality vs Perceptions

I don’t think any sensible person would question that a responsible writer should do their homework and research any facts that go into their writing, even if what they’re writing is fiction. However, over the years, I’ve learned that getting it right doesn’t always mean that the people reading the story will think you’ve gotten it right. The reason is that not all readers have done the homework and come to a story with a set of preconceived notions. If you violate those preconceived notions they may actually think you’ve made a mistake.

For example, I’m an astronomer who works with telescopes for a living. When I say that, I know a lot of people might picture this dude from a Bud Light commercial a few years back:

In fact, we don’t wear lab coats. We don’t spend all night standing at the back of a telescope. Telescopes have been using digital cameras, feeding pictures into computers since the 1980s. Even in the days when we did work at the telescope, you were more likely to find us wearing heavy coats and we’d be working in the dark all night long blasting loud music to try to keep ourselves awake. In fact, this is what the control room at the 4-meter telescope on Kitt Peak looks like:

And you’ll notice there’s not a lab coat in sight. Why would there be? It’s not like we’re working with dangerous chemicals or anything.

I play with this very idea a bit in my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt when gangsters from a Mexican cartel show up at the story’s observatory to track down a missing drug shipment. They come to the place with preconceived notions they gained from television, but learn that the real astronomers they meet aren’t much like what they believed.

I run into this dichotomy when writing weird westerns and steampunk. People think they know the history of the old west because stories like the Gunfight at OK Corral or the life of Billy the Kid have been told in numerous movies. Even I get caught off guard. A while back, I was watching Doctor Who’s version of the Gunfight at OK Corral and they introduced a character named Phin Clanton. From all the movies, I knew Ike Clanton and his brother Billy, but who the heck was Phin? Sure enough, I looked it up and Ike and Billy had a brother named Phineas who was not at the famous gunfight. In tribute to my newfound knowledge, I gave Phin a role in Lightning Wolves.

In the end, this raises something of a question. Is it better to write to the facts, as best as they can be known, or to write to people’s perceptions? My take on this is that you should absolutely do due diligence researching the facts. You’ll bring an air of authenticity to your work and you’ll likely be able to bring better and richer details to the table. However, you should also see if pop culture has addressed your topic and how it’s been portrayed. If the facts seem to contradict what you’re seeing in the more pop cultural references, you may want to find a way to address the dichotomy in your story. Otherwise, you might get a rejection from a well meaning editor or a poor review from a fan who thinks you got the facts wrong despite your hard work.