Full Steam Ahead

Over the last few years, one of the bestselling anthologies on the Hadrosaur Productions convention table is Gaslight and Grimm, a collection of steampunk fairy tales published by eSpec Books. I had a blast writing the story “The Steam-Powered Dragon” for that collection, which was a steampunk retelling of a lesser-known Grimm Fairy Tale, “The Dragon and his Grandmother.” Back in 2020, the editor, Danielle Ackley-McPhail asked if I would be interested in steampunking another fairy tale. I was definitely game. She told me the new anthology would be Grimm Machinations and the stories must feature a maker or some form of political machinations, or both. One of the suggested stories for the anthology was “Snow White.” Danielle mentioned she thought “Snow White” might be a stretch for this anthology’s themes. However, I love a challenge and this was a story I had translated from German back in college, plus I had the German edition of the tales, which included the Grimm Brothers’ original notes. I totally saw “Snow White” as a story that contained elements of both makers and political machinations. I began some tinkering of my own and soon “The Porcelain Princess” was born. While waiting to hear more about Danielle’s plans for this anthology, plans for a convention started to take shape.

Long time con-goers, vendors, and entertainers, Donna McClaren, aka The Baroness Alexandra, and Kolleen Kilduff from Design by Night Designs noted a lack of Steampunk festivals in the Baltimore area. Hence, Baltimore’s first Steampunk Convention, Tell-Tale Steampunk Festival was born. It is a weekend-long event and will feature workshops, vendors, entertainment, music, and educational panels. Tell-Tale Steampunk will draw its inspiration and theme from authors each year and plans on having a more hands-on/participation experience for festival goers. This year’s theme is based on the writings of Baltimore’s own Edgar Allan Poe and will feature a volume of stories based on the corax family (a nod to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”), as well as an interactive game to accompany the stories of our feather heroes. The main focus is audience participation and interaction. You can learn more about the convention at https://telltalesteampunk.com/

While I was vacationing in the Grand Canyon this past summer, I received an email from Danielle Ackley-McPhail about this anthology. Being at the canyon, I was literally surrounded by ravens. What’s more, several scenes of my novel Owl Dance were set at the Grand Canyon. I began to think about Professor Maravilla arriving at the canyon and seeing all the ravens. I also learned more about early geologists who had an eye on exploiting the canyon’s mineral wealth. All of those ideas came together to form the story “Dreams of Flight” which is now part of the game and part of the anthology A Cast of Crows.

But wait, as Ron Popiel used to say, there’s more! When this project started coming together, Danielle added a third book to the mix. This one is an anthology called Grease Monkeys: The Heart and Soul of Dieselpunk. Danielle and I discussed whether I might have a contribution to this anthology and I thought about my grandfather, who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad during the time when the railroads were transitioning from steam to diesel locomotives. I’ve also been fascinated by the history of narrow-gauge rail in the west, in part thanks to my university history professor who was a historian on one of the lines. I remembered how narrow-gauge railroads were particularly challenged by the change to diesel. Then I began to think about the outlaws of the era and I started to imagine Bonnie and Clyde as air pirates. It wasn’t long before I had a story about my grandfather fighting the famous outlaws over the mountain towns of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Soon, the story “The Falcon and the Goose” was born and after a solid rewrite based on editorial feedback, the story was added to the atnthology.

These anthologies include several authors I greatly admire and have worked with including Michelle D. Sonnier, Patrick Thomas, Christine Norris and John L. French. If you love retrofuturistic stories, or if you’re just curious about the whole steampunk and dieselpunk thing, this is a great place to dive in and find some great stories. The project has already funded, but please keep supporting. There are some great rewards for supporting the Kickstarter and if the project earns enough money, eSpec Books will create hardcover editions, which I’d love to see. Help us reach our goals and make all three of these books happen by supporting us at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/full-steam-ahead

Story and History

While my wife and I were in Tombstone the first weekend of October, we realized we’d never seen the 1957 film, Gunfight at the OK Corral starring Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. The movie also features DeForest Kelley, best known for playing Dr. McCoy in Star Trek, as Morgan Earp and Earl Holliman as Wyatt’s deputy, Charles Bassett. The year before Gunfight at the OK Corral, Holliman had appeared in Forbidden Planet as the cook on the spaceship C-57D. Much of The Gunfight at the OK Corral was filmed at Old Tucson Studios, where we’ve spent quite a bit of time at the Wild Wild West Con steampunk convention. We bought a copy of the Blu-ray at the OK Corral gift shop and brought it home.

Gunfight at the OK Corral Blu-Ray

I wasn’t expecting a historically accurate retelling of the real gunfight. After all, right there on the cover, Burt Lancaster lacked Wyatt Earp’s epic mustache! What’s more, the real gunfight was a messy thirty-second shootout that resulted from tensions brewing between two factions in Tombstone over the previous months. Most of the story’s drama is in the lead-up and the aftermath. When the movie is titled Gunfight at the OK Corral, you essentially know the gunfight itself is going to be the story’s big climactic scene. What surprised me was how much the movie diverged from history.

The movie opens with Wyatt Earp as a US Marshal on the trail of bad guy Johnny Ringo. In a small town in Texas, he finds a sheriff has let him get away. However, the sheriff points Earp to Doc Holliday, who happens to be in town, for more information. It turns out a gunman has come to town to get revenge for Doc killing his brother after cheating at cards, which gives us the setup for our opening confrontation. After this is resolved, Wyatt returns home to Dodge City, Kansas and continues searching for clues about Ringo. In the meantime, he has a run-in with a lady gambler named Laura Denbow and a romance blossoms between them. Eventually, Wyatt gets a telegram from his brother Virgil in Tombstone. Johnny Ringo has joined forces with a group of ranchers called the Clantons.

I’m not really interested in nitpicking the movie for historical accuracy. It tells a solid, tight-knit tale about a good lawman doggedly chasing down his opponent culminating in a satisfying, cinematic gunfight. What did strike me was how it used a handful of carefully placed historical details to give it the sense of historical veracity, even though it diverged from history at many key points.

Because I spent my weekend in Tombstone working on a dieselpunk story, which was a work of historical fantasy based in a real location and inspired by a true story, I realized this movie did a lot of what I do when I’m writing these kinds of his historical fantasy stories. History may have served as a foundation, but the movie’s writer and director made sure that it told a solid, self-contained story. History is often messy with many unresolved threads. Real-life romances and relationships aren’t always easy to understand. The big difference between Gunfight at the OK Corral and the stories I write is that I typically signal my story isn’t literal history by including fantastical or science fictional elements such as airships that didn’t exist at the time or wandering alien travelers. I enjoyed Gunfight at the OK Corral, but might have enjoyed a fantastical take based, for example, on Emma Bull’s novel Territory, even more.

As it turns out, I set a portion of my Clockwork Legion series in the area around Tombstone, but I deliberately decided I didn’t want to retell the story of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Instead, in my alternate version of history, the Clantons and the Earps are barely aware of each other because the events in this world conspire to keep them on separate paths. Part of the novel Lightning Wolves is based on the story of the Clantons before Tombstone was founded. By Owl Riders, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday have shown up, but their business interests are unrelated to the Clantons. You can learn more about the series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

It Came From Her Purse

My story “Dusty Violet and Bleached Bones” is now available in the anthology It Came From Her Purse, published by Hiraeth Publishing. “Dusty Violet and Bleached Bones” is a dieselpunk fairy tale set during New Mexico’s dust bowl. Billy Bones dreams of getting as far away from the desert southwest as possible. He’d love nothing more than joining a pirate crew and look for buried treasure. Violetta is a Native American girl escaping Santa Fe’s Indian School. The two find themselves pursued by none other than La Llorona.

It Came From Her Purse is an anthology of literal and figurative purses, not to mention a variety of containment systems! Viewing the contents of a woman’s purse can be a frightening experience, or so I’ve been told … the editors would extend this fright to include men’s satchels, go-bags, and such. Check out this anthology that peers into the collective psyches of artists, poets, and storytellers to bring forth these oft quirky, occasionally demented, and definitely fantastical tales! The anthology is edited by Terrie Leigh Relf and Marcia A. Borell,

This is a slim book, but it’s packed with some nice stories and poems. Tyree Campbell’s “Hermit Crab” imagines a scientist who looks for intelligent life out in space and owns a pendant she doesn’t realize connects her with life from another kind of realm. “Live by the Sword…” by t. santitoro imagines a school student who discovers her eraser can make more than the lines on the page vanish. The subject of “Pandora’s Purse” by Tim Mendees is pretty obvious from the title, but he brings the story into the modern era and gives it some nice twists. Steven Wittenberg Gordon’s “Results are Guaranteed” is a story about a man who visits a weight loss clinic and meets a doctor who produces astonishingly good results. “Tangled Fate” by Scott Coon tells a story from the perspective of objects that no good purse should be without, yo-yos! As it turns out, there are only a few literal purses in these stories. In most cases, the “purses” are a metaphor for the power wielded by one of the story’s women.

In addition to the short stories, there are four poems which follow the same themes as the stories. Of the poems, my favorite was “Shopping for Voodoo Dolls” by Marge Simon, but the poems by Francis W. Alexander, Gary Davis and John C. Mannone were all well done.

It Came From Her Purse is available at Amazon.com and directly from the publisher, Hiraeth Publishing.