Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, the day set aside for remembering those soldiers who gave their life for the country. I was surprised to learn that although Memorial Day has been recognized by the states for a long time, it only became an official Federal holiday during my lifetime. Memorial Day was one of the holidays created by the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which went into effect in 1971. That’s the point that the Memorial Day holiday started being celebrated on the last Monday in May.

The Memorial Day weekend has become traditionally associated with the beginning of the summer season in the United States. This year, my schedule at Kitt Peak worked out that I had to work the entire holiday weekend. Normally, working at the observatory over a holiday weekend isn’t much of a hardship, but this year, my shift started with wild 55 mile per hour winds, too high to open the telescope. Also, I’ve been suffering from a bout of sinus congestion. When we were able to open, the telescope where I was working developed some networking problems, which meant instead of working on cosmic mysteries, I was busy running between a couple of buildings (in the high wind) swapping out parts trying to solve more mundane computer mysteries. Fortunately the weather has improved as the weekend has progressed, and last night we were able to open the Mayall 4-meter to clear skies as shown in the photo.

Of course, I’m not the only person working this Memorial Day weekend. It’s all too easy to forget that many people have to work on weekends to do everything from keeping essential services running to keeping our favorite retail stores open so we can go shopping. In fact, if I weren’t working at the observatory this weekend, I’d likely be at a convention this weekend discussing my books and manning a booth. My next event will be Westercon 70 in Phoenix, Arizona, on the July 4 weekend.

Even though I’m not at a convention this weekend, I still had a unique opportunity to give a presentation about my writing work. I was interviewed by Emily Guerra of KRWG-FM, the NPR affiliate in Las Cruces, New Mexico for the PUENTES: Bridges to the Community segment of the station’s Fronteras news show. You can listen to the interview at their website: http://krwg.org/post/astronomy-steampunk-fiction. I was also pleased to see a review of my novel Owl Dance at the Steampunk Journal website: https://www.steampunkjournal.org/2017/05/24/owl-dance-david-lee-summers-review/#

One of the goals of my Clockwork Legion Steampunk series is to tell a good tale where the protagonists are actively doing their best to find peaceful solutions to the problems they encounter. In a way, I think that speaks to the spirit of a holiday like Memorial Day. After all, what better way to honor those who have fallen protecting us and our freedoms than working toward a world where no one else has to fall in battle.

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Owls from the Dark Side

With the first novel in my Clockwork Legion series titled Owl Dance and the fourth, in progress, tentatively titled Owl Riders, you might think I have a fondness for owls, and you would be right. I find them fascinating, elusive creatures. They do an important job, eating vermin. A few years ago, a family of burrowing owls nested in a field near my home. Going by their nests on my daily walks, I developed something of a rapport with them. I would whistle at them and they would whistle back, sometimes doing a little dance going back and forth from one foot to the other. In fact, that’s where the title, Owl Dance came from. The photo below was taken at Wild Wild West Con in Tucson where I’m posing with my daughter and one of the world’s largest owls, a Eurasian Eagle Owl.

David and Myranda

The thing is, owls are not universally regarded as likeable or good. If you look at the photo above, one of the first things you should notice is the size of the owl’s claws. I was very aware when it sat on my arm that that owl was a powerful hunter. When I lived in the small town of Madrid, New Mexico, owls were known to hunt any cats running loose after dark. Sometimes I drive up to work at Kitt Peak National Observatory after dark and see a rather large owl sitting on the road. One time, the owl took off in front of me causing me to slam on the brakes. It was an awesome and terrifying sight.

Many Native American tribes actively dislike owls. They are believed to harbor the spirits of the dead. Hearing an owl hoot at night can be considered an ill omen. The following appears on the official website of the Mescalero Apache: “The owl is a night creature and the Apache people do not have contact with this animal. Avoid having a night owl near you. It is considered a bad omen if an owl hoots near you day or night.” These beliefs have also crossed over into Latino culture where there are stories of owls being associated with witches. In Owl Dance, my character Fatemeh is seen as a witch precisely because of her association with owls.

This brings us to my latest novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. astronomers-crypt-453x680 In Apache lore, there’s a creature known by many names including Big-Owl, Owl Man, or even Owl Monster. He’s something of a bogeyman in Apache stories. Sometimes he’s described as more human like and other times as more monster like. He often appears in the Apache Creation story, such as the version recorded in this post on Noah Nez’s Native Skeptic blog.

When I came upon descriptions of Big Owl, I began to wonder what a real creature that could have aspects of man, owl, and troll would be like. Of course, evidence suggests that birds are the modern dinosaurs. Thinking about the dinosaurs that became owls went a long way to picturing this kind of creature. The protagonist, Mike Teter, has the following vision in the novel’s prologue:

    On the dome floor, next to the telescope, stood a grotesque figure resembling an unholy merging of a predatory dinosaur and some kind of alien creature from a sci-fi movie. Its body crouched atop long talons that looked as though they could easily rip the tiles from the floor. The creature’s nose consisted of two slits above a sharp, beak-like mouth. But it was the eyes that froze Mike in terror. Dark. Mesmerizing. They were like black holes in space. Mike had no idea where the creature had come from or how it managed to get into the dome. But he did know one thing for certain. It wanted to kill him.

To see more of what happens with Big Owl, be sure to pick up a copy of The Astronomer’s Crypt from Amazon, Kobo, or Lachesis Publishing. You can learn more about the Clockwork Legion series by visiting my website.

Twisting History

This month has started off with some good news. I have official word that my story “Fountains of Blood” has been accepted for an anthology called Straight Outta Tombstone tentatively scheduled to appear in summer 2017 from Baen Books. Editor David Boop invited me to submit to the anthology a little over a year ago.

fountain

My story idea came quickly and I was inspired by a tombstone in the cemetery behind my house. No one’s buried underneath this tombstone. Rather it’s a memorial to a former cavalryman, governor of Texas, and attorney named Albert Jennings Fountain who disappeared near White Sands along with his son Henry on February 1, 1896. Among other things, Fountain operated the Fountain Opera House in Mesilla, New Mexico. Although that building no longer stands, his family rebuilt the building in 1905 as the Fountain Theater, which now shows films selected by the Mesilla Valley Film Society. As it tuns out, for a time they used stationary with a letterhead I designed for them, giving me a thread of connection back to Fountain himself.

Perhaps Fountain’s most famous client as an attorney was Billy the Kid. Most sources cite Billy’s real name as William Henry McCarty. In my Clockwork Legion novels, William McCarty’s life path is changed when he encounters Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi. Instead of getting caught up in an ugly feud known as the Lincoln County War, McCarty becomes one of the Owl Riders, helping to defend the United States against the Russians.

Brazen Shark-300x450

Back in our timeline, after defending Billy the Kid, Fountain would go on to launch an investigation into the Lincoln County War. He was on his way home from Lincoln County when he and his son disappeared. In The Brazen Shark, Fountain still defends Billy. This time it’s not for murder, but for helping his friends Ramon and Fatemeh evade soldiers so they could understand why the Russians were invading the United States in the first place. In the Clockwork Legion series, Billy doesn’t die at twenty-one, and Fountain hires him as a bodyguard for his fateful trip. The problem is, even Billy the Kid can’t stand up to the forces out to stop Albert J. Fountain.

After getting ambushed near White Sands and left for dead, Billy awakens and goes for help. After the long journey, he seeks solace from a “soiled dove” in Las Cruces named Marcella who turns out to know more than he would have suspected and provides Billy with essential clues about the disappearance. Those familiar with my books may recognize Marcella from Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

Of course, my short story stands alone and you will be able to read it without being familiar with my novels. However, for readers who want the fun of seeing the connections and how I’ve bent and twisted history in both universes, I recommend starting with the first books in each series Owl Dance and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. Of course, I’d love it if you would keep right on reading all the books in the two series. That would keep you busy for the months waiting for the new anthology. I hear the author list is pretty amazing and hope I can share the full table of contents soon.