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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New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

I’ve been spending much of this last week revising my fourth Clockwork Legion novel Owl Riders. This is the pass when I’m working to make sure the novel is internally consistent, clean up the prose, get rid of all but the most essential of those pesky adverbs, and make sure the scenes are not too rushed nor bogged down with info dumps. This is also the pass where I attempt to touch up the history. Although I try to get things correct in the first pass, I sometimes find there are details that add credibility to the story.

When I was recently in New Orleans, Marita Crandle of Boutique du Vampyre recommended I visit the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. The suggestion was uncanny because I had not told her about the character of Fatemeh in my Clockwork Legion novels. Those who’ve read the books know she’s a healer. As the books continue, she seeks more formal training. By the beginning of Owl Riders, she has a pharmacy degree. The timing is not inconsistent with history. The woman to get a pharmacy degree was Mary Corinna Putnam Jacobi, who graduated from the New York College of Pharmacy in 1863. So, a trip to the Pharmacy Museum seemed in order.

The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum is on Chartres Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter on the site of America’s first licensed pharmacy. It’s about a block away from the site of the fictional pharmacy in Owl Riders. In history, the bottles of brightly colored liquids in the front window known as “show globes” weren’t just decorative. If all the bottles in the window had the same thing, you knew there was an epidemic in the city the pharmacy had plenty of the remedy in stock. If the bottles were multiple colors, the pharmacist was advertising their skills compounding a variety of medicines and cosmetics. Yes, compounding cosmetics was part of an early pharmacist’s job. They might also have a soda fountain, since the forerunners of modern soft drinks were believed to be tonics of one variety or another. Here’s a look at the kinds of bottles and shelves that would have stood behind the counter of a nineteenth century pharmacy such as the one I have in my novel.

If you visit the museum, I highly recommend going in time to hear the daily presentation. When I visited, that happened at 1pm. The museum’s website is http://www.pharmacymuseum.org/ and you can check for any updates, plus they have several photos of their exhibits. During the tour, they discussed the history of the pharmacy on the site, the practices of early pharmacies, and how early drugs were administered.

Of course the museum tour pointed out that one of the reasons New Orleans started licensing pharmacies was to make things more difficult for traditional healers, many of whom were female and people of color, a fact that’s true of my character Fatemeh. This was already a subject I’d addressed in the novel, but in this last week’s pass I added just a little bit to show how she had to work to overcome officials who might not welcome her services.

Get ready for Owl Riders by reading the three novels that come before it. Who knows, you might find the cure for what ails you!

When Research Derails Your Plot

Before I sit down to write one of my novels, I like to plot them out. These days my plots are fairly detailed with a sentence or two about every scene I plan to write. This helps to guide my research so I learn what I need to know before I start writing the novel. Despite that, details sometimes slip through the cracks.

For example, I’m currently working on my fourth Clockwork Legion novel, Owl Riders. The historical Wyatt Earp is an important side character. In one scene, a character wants to buy Wyatt a drink. Now, I’ve watched many western movies featuring Wyatt Earp and he’s often shown in a saloon, playing faro or poker. In my research, I found this to be reasonably accurate, so it seemed fair to assume that Wyatt was a drinking man.

I thought it would be fun to add a little authenticity to the story and have the character buy Wyatt not just any drink, but his favorite drink. Wyatt Earp’s life is so well documented, I thought it might be possible to find out what he liked to drink. As it turns out, I did indeed find out. Wyatt Earp didn’t drink alcohol at all!

At this point, I faced two choices. The first, and perhaps most controversial would be to declare that in this alternate history Wyatt does drink. I’d argue this is actually a fair choice, but if you do go this route, you should do even more research to understand why Wyatt Earp didn’t drink and decide what circumstances in your alternate world would make him a drinking man. While you might not dwell on that choice in the story, you probably should say a few words about it. I would only recommend considering this route if major plot points down the road required that Wyatt Earp be a drinker for some reason and pulling that element out of the story would make it fall down like the proverbial house of cards.

In addition to being a writer, I’m a professional scientist. All my training is built around the idea that if I do research and find something that doesn’t fit my preconceived notions, I have to accept that finding. Between that inclination and the fact that Wyatt Earp having a shot of whiskey, scotch or anything else was simply not critical to the story in its own right, I did a little more research. I discovered that Wyatt Earp was a big fan of ice cream and ice cream parlors were just starting to spring up in the old west of the 1880s.

Returning to my novel, I used this bit of trivia to create a minor plot complication for my character who had to scramble to find Wyatt’s favorite ice cream parlor to continue his plans. It adds an interesting moment to the story, as well as a little bit of fun, historical trivia.

For me, this is one of the most fun parts of writing the Clockwork Legion novels. I get to learn about history and figure out how that history is changed by the world-altering events I’ve proposed. Conversely, I figure out what things would be constants in this new world and how that affects the story I want to tell.

If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll join me on this thrilling ride through history. The links below will take you to my pages about the books where you can find out how to purchase, read sample chapters, see book trailers and more. Also, note the first two books are available as audio books as well as print and ebooks.

Revision Hell

This past week, I’ve been reading and revising my rough draft of Owl Riders, getting in shape for beta readers and ultimately getting it ready to submit to my publisher. Despite the post’s title, the process hasn’t been hellish, but it does eat time. Owl Riders is the fourth novel in my Clockwork Legion series and the fun of this process is that I enjoy playing in this world. It’s because I enjoy it that I feel I have a responsibility to tell the story in the best way possible.

I’m a believer that to succeed in writing, you need to sit down and write. As with my other recent novels, I wrote Owl Riders on my weeks off from my observatory job. Typically, I managed two chapters every other week. I didn’t worry too much about getting just the right words the first time through. I wrote from an outline to keep me on track and help me know where I was in the story, but I didn’t worry too much about tracking details. So my job this time around is to assure continuity, make sure I didn’t repeat facts I already conveyed in earlier chapters, and improve the prose so I tell the story in the best way possible.

To do this, I employ a three-prong approach for each chapter. First, I make a pass through the printed manuscript, rereading and making changes. I also make notes of facts I should remember for later chapters. Some of these facts are just matters of maintaining consistency of small details through the novel. Some of these facts are things I’d forgotten I highlighted, but are fun to revisit later in the novel as the characters have grown. I recently acquired a copy of Scrivener, the book writing software from Literature and Latte. It’s been a great help keeping those notes handy so I can check them as needed.

My second pass through each chapter uses a technique highlighted in the book, The 10% Solution by Ken Rand, which I’ve mentioned in other posts. My publisher also recommends following the book’s approach before submission. In short, the book highlights several common overused words (the infamous adverbs, the verb “to be”) and filler words (things like “of,” “about,” and “by”) that are all too easy to drop in your manuscript when you’re writing. The idea is to search for these words and then evaluate the phrase where it occurs and decide if you could find a better way to say it. I tend to catch a lot of this in the first pass, but searching always highlights more of these. The important thing about Ken Rand’s technique is that he doesn’t say you must make changes when you find these things. He just suggests evaluating the sentence and seeing if you can say it better. I usually make several revisions in this pass.

My third pass is to read each chapter aloud. This helps me smooth out prose from the first two passes, helps me to hear where I may have repeated phrases, and I often catch important elements I either cut or never wrote in the first place.

At this point, I’m about halfway through the revision pass. I hope to get more work done during my next break from the observatory. In this fourth novel, the Apaches have built battle wagons and they’ve carved out a land claim in Southern Arizona. Ramon is pulled into the conflict. Meanwhile, the man Fatemeh was once betrothed to in Persia seeks retribution for her decision to run away. If you haven’t already, be sure to read the first three novels in the series. The links below will take you to pages with more information and purchase links. All of the books are available in print and as ebooks. The first two novels are also available from Audible as audio books!

The Magic of Old Books

This past week, I finished the rough draft of my fourth Clockwork Legion novel, tentatively titled Owl Riders. These novels are steampunk steeped in history. The first novel, Owl Dance starts in a wild west very much like the wild west of history. However, as an alien character called Legion interferes in human affairs and humans themselves gain confidence in their inventions, the world of the novels gradually diverges from the world of history.

Because I start in the world of history, I like to do my homework and understand the places and peoples I describe in my books. Even when I diverge from history, the cultural experience of the people in the novel will be the same up until the divergence point. Reading books that discuss the history of the region and peoples I’m writing about is, of course, important, but one thing I like to do over and beyond that is find books written by people who lived at the time the book takes place.

One of the challenges of Owl Riders is that I have some scenes set in Persia of 1885. I found some good histories of Iran which gave me insights not only into the country in the nineteenth century, but how that history helped to shape the modern country. However, I wasn’t sure what I would find written at the time period. A search at my local library didn’t turn up anything. On an off chance, I went to COAS, our wonderful used bookstore in Las Cruces and happened on a book called Land of the Lion and Sun by Absalom D. Shabaz, published in 1901. The book’s subtitle is “Personal Experiences, the Nations of Persia—Their Manners, Customs and Their Beliefs.”

This sounded perfect, a personal viewpoint of someone living in Iran within a few years of my story’s time period. On closer inspection, I discovered that the book was written as a guide for people hoping to be Christian Missionaries in Persia. I’ve just started the book and I find that Shabaz was raised a Christian in Persia and had to deal with the reactions of his friends and neighbors. This actually proves to be an interesting viewpoint because it combines elements from both my protagonists, Ramon Morales who is a Catholic-raised lawyer visiting Persia for the first time and Fatemeh Morales who converted to the Bahá’í Faith as a young woman and then left home.

For me, the real magic of a book like Land of the Lion and Sun is that I can hear the words of the author speaking directly to me across more than a century. I can read a personal perspective in the language of the time, with all the attitudes and prejudices of the time intact. I think it’s important to start by reading modern histories precisely because an author of a particular time can’t help but share their prejudices. It allows me to separate the perceptions of the historical author from history as it unfolded. I look forward to seeing how Mr. Shabaz experienced the history I’ve read about and see where that might lead me as I prepare to revise my novel.

While you’re waiting for the fourth novel, be sure to catch the three novels that are already published. Clicking the titles will take you to pages with more information:

Coming Soon – Straight Outta Tombstone

As of today, we’re just about six weeks from the release of Straight Outta Tombstone, a weird western anthology edited by David Boop. I’m excited about this anthology for several reasons. First of all, I was able to bring two of my favorite worlds together in one story. Larissa and Billy from the Clockwork Legion series encounter Marcella and Rosen from my Scarlet Order Vampire series during the historical Albert Fountain disappearance. What’s more, this story appears in an anthology including several people who I admire, many of whom I’m lucky enough to call friends, including Jim Butcher, Jody Lynn Nye, Phil Foglio, Robert E. Vardeman, Nicole Kurtz and more!

People who have read both the Clockwork Legion novels and the Scarlet Order novels may wonder how I can bring the two together. I only briefly mentioned vampires in Owl Dance, and more as a literary concept than a reality. Also, savvy readers will notice that I killed off one of the Clockwork Legion characters in Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The way I could make this work was to realize that the Scarlet Order novels are essentially a “secret history.” They’re set in the shadows of our world. However, the Clockwork Legion novels are set in a distinctly alternate history. So the Scarlet Order vampires you meet in my story “Fountains of Blood” are the ones who exist in my Clockwork Legion world!

I’m not the only author playing with a world of my creation in this book. Larry Correia explores the roots of his best-selling Monster Hunter International series in “Bubba Shackleford’s Professional Monster Killers.” Jim Butcher reveals the origin of one of the Dresden Files’ most popular characters in “Fistful of Warlock.” Kevin J. Anderson’s Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., finds himself in a showdown in “High Midnight.” Alan Dean Foster brings us a new Mad Amos Malone story in “The Treefold Problem.”

Here’s the complete table of contents:

  • Bubba Shackleford’s Professional Monster Killers by Larry Correia
  • Trouble in an Hourglass by Jody Lynn Nye
  • The Buffalo Hunters by Sam Knight
  • The Sixth World by Robert E. Vardeman
  • Easy Money by Phil Foglio
  • The Wicked Wild by Nicole Givens Kurtz
  • Chance Corrigan and the Lord of the Underworld by Michael A. Stackpole
  • The Greatest Guns in the Galaxy by Bryan Thomas Schmidt & Ken Scholes
  • Dance of Bones by Maurice Broaddus
  • Dry Gulch Dragon by Sarah A. Hoyt
  • The Treefold Problem by Alan Dean Foster
  • Fountains of Blood by David Lee Summers
  • High Midnight by Kevin J. Anderson
  • Coyote by Naomi Brett Rourke
  • The Key by Peter J. Wacks
  • A Fistful of Warlocks by Jim Butcher

Hope you’ll join us for ride out to an old west far stranger and scarier than the one your granpappy told you about. This one includes soul-sucking ghosts, steam-powered demons and wayward aliens. The book will be released on July 4. You can preorder it right now at Amazon. You can also visit the book’s page at Baen Books, where you can get a sneak peak of the entire first half.

Lightning Wolves on Audible

Lightning Wolves, the second novel in my Clockwork Legion steampunk series, is now available as an audiobook at Audible.com. In the novel, it’s 1877 and Russian forces occupy the Pacific Northwest. They are advancing into California. New weapons have proven ineffective or dangerously unstable. The one man who can help has disappeared into Apache Country, hunting ghosts. A healer and a former sheriff lead a band into the heart of the invasion to determine what makes the Russian forces so unstoppable while a young inventor attempts to unleash the power of the lightning wolves.

One thing that makes this release special is that I love to listen to audiobooks while I’m driving from my home in New Mexico to the observatory where I work in Arizona. Elements of this novel were inspired by the very same commute. Almost every week, I pass the Whetstone Mountains which house Kartchner Caverns State Park. I drive by the turnoff for Tombstone, famous for the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. I drive through the Dragoon Mountains where Apache warriors made camp. All of these locations feature in Lightning Wolves. I look forward to giving the book a listen during a couple of my upcoming commutes through the region. Here we have a look at one of the real-world settings in the novel.

As it turns out, I’m revisiting a lot of these same locations in the novel I’m currently writing. I left a few plot threads dangling at the end of Lightning Wolves which didn’t get resolved in The Brazen Shark because pirate captain Onofre Cisneros took my protagonists Ramon and Fatemeh first to Hawaii and then to Japan. Also, it seemed like it would be fun to leave those dangling plot threads alone for a few years worth of story time and see how they develop. The result is that Southern Arizona is in quite a mess by the opening of Owl Riders and you know Ramon and Fatemeh will be right in the middle of it, presuming other aspects of their life don’t get in the way.

The audiobook is narrated by Edward Mittelstedt who did a terrific job on Owl Dance. What’s more, Lightning Wolves was a top ten finisher in the best steampunk novel category of the 2014 Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll. My daughter Autumn created Larissa, the young inventor mentioned in the story’s description. She served as the model for Larissa on the book’s cover.

You can listen to a sample and buy a copy of the Lightning Wolves audiobook at: https://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Lightning-Wolves-Audiobook/B0716QC53Y