Tales of Zandria

Last year, I had the pleasure of traveling to Baltimore for Balticon 50 where eSpec Books released it’s collection of steampunk fairy tales called Gaslight and Grimm. I’m honored to be one of the contributors and it was a real delight to meet many of my fellow contributors. One contributor I was pleased to meet was Christine Norris. The reason is that we had worked with each other at LBF Books almost a decade before, but this was the first time we’d actually had a chance to meet face to face.

In 2005, I edited Christine’s young adult novel Talisman of Zandria, then edited its sequel, Return to Zandria in 2007. I thought these were terrific stories and I enjoyed getting to know the protagonist, Ivy Peterson. Here’s a little bit about each of the novels.

When Ivy Peterson sees the most extraordinary thing in her own backyard—a fairy—she dismisses it as a daydream, but she quickly realizes that it was, in fact, the real thing. She goes in search of the mythical creature, and accidentally falls into Zandria, a magical world that exists just outside her own. Unfortunately, she finds that she’s trapped there. Someone has stolen the Talisman, a magical amulet that controls the five gates between Zandria and her own world. Ivy and her new friends, the wizard Arden, his young apprentice Connor, and a pair of fairies set off on a quest to reclaim the Talisman of Zandria.

Diana Hignutt, author of the award nominated Empress of Clouds said, “Talisman of Zandria sparkles with wonder, adventure and excitement. A must read for fans of YA fantasy.”

Ivy Peterson was not ordinary. Ivy was More-Than-Ordinary because once she found herself in a very special place and had a very special adventure. But Ivy was far too old for fairy tales…wasn’t she? It has been three years since Ivy recovered the Talisman of Zandria, and her life is very different. She is no longer the shy young girl who chased a fairy through a magic gate, but a teenager, concerned with clothes, friends, and school. She has nearly forgotten about the special world that exists on the other side of a thin, magical veil. But they have not forgotten her. Now a crisis is brewing in Zandria, and only Ivy can help. They implore her to come to their aid, and Ivy’s memories of adventure pull her once again into the enchanted world of mermaids, dragons and wizards. Reunited with old friends, and bringing a new one along for the ride, Ivy must now lead them into the wilds of her own world, and not only keep them safe, but stop an empire from falling into the clutches of evil.

According to Coffee Time Romance, “The reader is transported into beautiful imagery that is quite magical as Ivy and Lori race to help the people of Zandria. Christine Norris sketches a tale that young and old will enjoy.”

Hadrosaur Productions has first edition copies of both novels on clearance for 50% off the cover price. The direct links to the books are:

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Hearing My Own Words

Last week, I finally had the chance to hear the audio book edition of my novel Owl Dance. It might surprise you to hear that I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until after it was released, but by contract, my publisher has the right to create an audio edition and there’s nothing in the contract that says I have a right of approval. My approval process wrapped up when the publisher and I agreed the novel was ready for print.

It might sound like I’m complaining about the process, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, a lot of work goes into writing, editing, and promoting my books…not to mention my other full-time job operating telescopes. It was actually kind of nice to let my publisher handle all the logistics behind arranging the production and proofing the final product. I was glad to know another edition of my book was coming out and I didn’t have to add another task to my plate to make it happen.

So, what did I think of the final product? I think narrator Edward Mittelstedt did a fine job. He had a great range of voices and a nice delivery speed that was clear and understandable. His pronunciation of names like “Fatemeh” and “Maravilla” were somewhat different than mine, but they weren’t wrong. In particular, he pronounces “Maravilla” in a kind of a South American accent, which suits the character.

Recently a friend asked if I had a difficult time enjoying the books I read. Her thought was that as a professional writer and editor, I might be so busy critiquing books I read that I couldn’t just sit back and enjoy them. My answer was that I’ve reached a point where I can read books critically, but still enjoy them. The critical part of my brain is sort of like a background task I can access when needed.

That said, I found listening to my own book was much more difficult than listening to books by other authors. Time has passed since I wrote the book and I have gained a new perspective on my words hearing them read by another person. I found myself critiquing my word choices, plot, and character decisions all through the story. Despite that, my overall impression of the book was positive. I felt like I heard the kind of story I like. That said, there were word choices and particularly some repeated phrases I wouldn’t mind revisiting if the chance ever presented itself.

I’ve come to the point where I strongly recommend writers read their work aloud at some point during the edit. It helps you hear phrases you use too often or too close together. I hadn’t quite reached the point where I was doing that regularly when I wrote Owl Dance and I caught a few places where it showed. I’ve taken the lesson to heart and will be applying it as I go forward. Hopefully these issues attracted my attention because I was listening at a more detail-oriented level than most listeners (or readers) will.

If you’d like to travel back in time to an 1877 that wasn’t, but could have been if a sheriff and a healer started wandering the West together while a visitor from the stars encouraged the Russian Empire to unify the world under one leader, you can read a sample chapter and find links to all the books editions at http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

The Horror of Time Management

My daughter recently wrapped up another semester’s midterms in college, which presented her with a nearly overwhelming set of projects and exams. On top of that, she has a job with its own set of responsibilities. At the same time, I’ve been juggling quite a few projects as well. I’m drafting a novel, shepherding an anthology through its final phases of publication, promoting those books that are already out. Of course, I also have the “day” job of operating telescopes. Included in my job duties is oversight of the telescope operation manuals, which keeps me busy by itself. Given our different time management challenges, we had a good discussion about the subject and how to move forward without feeling overwhelmed.

The photo shows me with both of my daughters a couple of years ago at Gator Chateu in Jennings, Louisiana. The picture is kind of a metaphor. If you think of projects as alligators, they’re easy to handle and kind of fun when they’re small. The challenge is when they get big and you have several of them at once!

I’ve been seeing several articles in recent months that suggest multitasking is counterproductive. I can believe it. To extend my alligator metaphor, it’s like trying to go up against all the gators by yourself at once. You’re more likely to get eaten than get something useful done with the gators. Not multitasking sounds great until you’re confronted with the reality of several big projects and looming deadlines.

The first thing to realize is that it’s actually rare for all deadlines to fall at the exact same time. Even when deadlines do occur at the same time, there’s nothing saying you can’t finish one project early if possible. The first thing I like to do when confronted with several looming projects is figure out which things need to be done first. Also, some projects require more complete attention from me while others require me to contact a person and then wait for a response. This part is like getting your alligators into separate enclosures so you can deal with them one at a time.

To step back a little and make this more concrete for writers, this is why I think it’s invaluable for a writer to have good, regular writing habits. For me, it’s much easier to write productively in a small block of time if I have been writing routinely every day. If I take a long break from my writing, that’s when anxiety starts to build regarding what I’m going to write about. That’s when I spend long periods of time staring at the computer trying to figure out what words I’m going to be using. If I’m writing regularly, I can look at my outline, see the scene I want to write, then sit down and get it done in the block I have available. If you write by the seat of your pants, you won’t be looking at an outline, but you might think about the last scene you wrote and decide where you’re going.

Editing and book promotion can both involve some amount of writing emails or making phone calls and then waiting for responses. A daily routine that often works well for me is to wake up, check my email and see if there’s anything I need to deal with right away. I take care of what I need to, and then set aside those tasks that either don’t require an instant response or can’t be finished instantly. At that point, I turn off my email program and turn off the ringer on my phone. I write to the goal I have set myself. That goal varies depending on the project, but it’s often a thousand or two thousand words. Once that goal is done, I turn the phone back on and restart the email program, check for messages and move on to longer term editorial work.

Now, you’ll notice, I’ve not addressed the observatory job. One thing I like about my job is that while I work long hours at the telescope, I only work for about six or seven nights every two weeks. So, all my work taking data at the telescope and drafting manuals happens at the observatory and is only occasionally done at home when there’s a pressing deadline or a safety issue that needs to be dealt with right away. This kind of schedule isn’t for everyone, which means you need to adapt your schedule to your routine. It may mean smaller blocks of time every day for every job you do, or it may mean you do some jobs on some days and other jobs on other days.

After awhile, it starts to look like multitasking, but really I try hard to focus on one job at a time as much as possible.

I also didn’t mention family time in the equation, but for me, that’s perhaps the most important time of all and the least negotiable. It’s also probably a better reason for showing a photo with me and my daughters than a silly alligator analogy. When I’m at home, I typically stop work at 6pm to be available to my wife and daughters as they need. There are exceptions. Among other things, sometimes my younger daughter has after school activities or homework that take her attention for a while. Sometimes she works on that while I work on a project. When I’m at the observatory, I’m away from home, but I make time to Skype with my family every day and I’m available to take calls as needed.

So, to sum up, if I’m working on several long-term projects with deadlines, I like to prioritize those projects with earlier deadlines. I block out my day so I make progress on all my projects, taking it one thing at a time. I try to build up good habits so that limited blocks of time are productive. I recognize what I need to make myself productive at each type of project and try to maintain those conditions.

All of that said, yeah, I still get overwhelmed at times. Sometimes then, the best thing to do is take a break, go for a walk, clear my head and look at it all afresh. Sometimes then, those alligators don’t look quite as big as I thought the first time and I’m able to wrestle them into their compartments and get on with my life.

In the Word Kitchen

I’ll be at LepreCon in Phoenix, Arizona from July 23 through 26. To learn more about this fun science fiction convention, visit the LepreCon website.

This week, several writing and editing projects I’ve been working on have taken major steps forward. I feel like a chef in a kitchen working on several dishes at once, doing my best to make sure they all get the proper amount of attention and go out to my guests in the right order. cook The photo is an old one of me in my chef’s coat. I don’t have pretensions of being a great chef—or at least many pretensions—though I am a pretty darn cook if I do say so myself. My wife was inspired to buy me the coat after watching cooking shows and realizing there must be a practical reason for the coats. Mine has saved my arms from grease splatters and saved a few shirts. It was well worth the investment.

Moving from slinging hash to slinging words, I’m currently working through the final copy edit of The Astronomer’s Crypt. This is my novel about creatures from the beginning of time, drug dealers, ghosts, and astronomers colliding during a cloudy night at an observatory. For those who want to follow the adventures of this novel, be sure to follow my horror fiction blog at http://dlsummers.wordpress.com. In addition to catching last minute grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, my copy editor has done a lot to flag places where the action can be tightened and my use of language can be more effective. It’s been a good experience.

While working through edits of my novel, I’m editing an exciting post-apocalyptic novel called Sector 12 by L.J. Bonham. I’ll be sure to share more information about the novel when it comes out. I think being edited helps me be a better editor. What’s more, editing another author’s work helps me be more receptive to the comments of my editors.

I’ve also started reading stories for the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys which collects stories about those people who will blaze trails to planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler Probe. I’m editing the anthology with Kepler’s Project Scientist, Dr. Steve Howell. So far, I’ve received some great stories, but there’s plenty of room for more submissions. If you’re interested in trying your hand at a submission, be sure to read the guidelines at http://www.hadrosaur.com/antho-gl.html.

As with any good chef, I have a secret recipe and even something a little extra—what a Cajun might call a lagniappe. I actually have two more projects in process. I’m just waiting to formalize a few more things, then I’ll be ready to unveil them as well. Stay tuned. Or, to use a variation of Chef Paul Prudhomme’s catchphrase: Good eating, good reading, good loving!

The Race is On

This past spring, I signed a contract for my horror novel The Astronomer’s Crypt about a week before I turned in the third of my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels, The Brazen Shark. Editor Joanna D’Angelo of Lachesis Publishing sent me her edits for The Astronomer’s Crypt on September 15. Editor Irene Radford of Sky Warrior Publishing sent me her edits for The Brazen Shark exactly one week later on September 22. It’s certainly enough to feel like a race!

Despite some coincidental timing, it’s really not a race. Both of my editors have a common goal. They want to help me make the books they’re working on the best they can be. I do have deadlines for both projects—The Brazen Shark is actually due before The Astronomer’s Crypt, but how long after that each book takes to achieve publication will depend on how satisfied my editors are with my work and the production queues at each of the publishing houses. So, even though it’s not a race, it’ll still be fun to see which one comes out first! Either way, these will be novels nine and ten, marking something of a milestone for me.

SummersOwlDance

The Brazen Shark continues the adventures of Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi from Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves. Set in 1877, this third novel tells the story of their honeymoon in the Pacific and how they get caught up in a plot by samurai to steal a Russian airship in order to overthrow the Meiji Emperor. This story steps away from the familiar wild west setting of the first two novels and goes further afield. Of course, while you’re waiting for this novel, you can be sure to read Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves! Those who want even more of Ramon and Fatemeh will be delighted to know that book three of the series will not close it out. I am already contracted to write a fourth book in this series, tentatively titled Owl Riders. I’m still working out plots and I don’t want to give away any spoilers for The Brazen Shark, but I can tell you that you’ll get to see a very steampunked version of New Orleans in the series’ fourth installment!

The Astronomer’s Crypt is intended to be the first of a series called “Wilderness of the Dead” which accounts the spooky happenings of a fictional wilderness area in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico. This wilderness includes Carson Peak Observatory, a ghost town called Toledo with a haunted mine, and a number of caves, which are portals to other dimensions where monsters from ancient history were trapped by Apache warriors. Although this is a new series, you get a taste for my horror by reading my Scarlet Order vampire novels Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and Vampires of the Scarlet Order. As you can imagine, with a title like The Astronomer’s Crypt, it must be set at the observatory. I can tell you that the second novel is tentatively titled The Miner’s Tomb and we get to know the ghost town near the observatory quite well.

So, with two series in the works, will there be a race between Owl Riders and The Miner’s Tomb? That’s a good question, but at this point, I expect Owl Riders will be written first. It’s the novel that’s actually under contract with a deadline. Lachesis has made a strong verbal commitment to The Miner’s Tomb, but the paper hasn’t yet been signed. Still, who knows what the future may bring!

Finally, I received a lovely review of The Solar Sea from fellow author, Erica Miles. You can read it at Amazon.com.

Day Jobs and Talismans

I spent last weekend at LepreCon in Phoenix, Arizona, where I had a great time presenting science talks and speaking on steampunk panels. The convention was large enough that I kept busy, but small enough that I could have some good productive conversations with people. Tales10-4-cover-big I came home to find the final illustrations waiting for the last issue of Tales of the Talisman Magazine. So I spent much of this week finishing the layout. Today, I wrote my final introduction for the magazine. We’ll be proofreading in the coming week, then sending it to the printer. Needless to say, this has been something of a week for reflection.

When I started Tales of the Talisman in 2005, I was working as a full time writer and editor. No one was more surprised than me at the end of 2007 when I received a call from Kitt Peak National Observatory asking if I would be interested in returning to operate telescopes. To be honest, I thought it would be a short-term job. The funding situation for the national observatory looked bleak and it was unclear how much longer the National Science Foundation would continue to operate the facility in an era when bigger and better telescopes needed construction funds.

I left astronomy in 2001 because I’d moved into a position that ate so much of my time I had little left over for my own writing, much less Hadrosaur Tales, the predecessor to Tales of the Talisman. I returned because I thought I could help out, I thought it was short term, and a regular paycheck looks good to banks when you’re trying to get a mortgage! I also had the promise of a regular schedule that effectively gave me every other week off. (Just as an aside, I’ll note that I average 80 hours of work in six nights at the observatory. It’s an intense schedule!)

Seven and a half years after I returned to Kitt Peak, the situation has changed dramatically. The Dark Energy Spectrographic Instrument (or DESI) is being developed for the Mayall 4-meter telescope. Also, NASA is pushing ahead with the Extreme Precision Doppler Spectrometer (or EPDS) for the WIYN telescope. In these volatile times, it’s hard to say what will happen in the coming months and years, but right this moment, Kitt Peak’s future looks bright and I’m excited to be a part of it.

In this era of promise for astronomy, I also find my writing load has increased. I just turned in The Brazen Shark, which is book three of my four-book Clockwork Legion Steampunk series, and I signed the contract for the horror novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. If all goes well, that latter project will be the first of a series. I was already finding it challenging to keep up with a relentless, quarterly publication schedule. Also, publishing has been evolving in the past decade and I’ve recognized the need to create a sustainable electronic edition of any book I publish. It’s not much more work than creating a print-only edition, but it’s enough extra that I haven’t managed it regularly.

So, volume 10, issue 4 is the last issue of Tales of the Talisman … for now. Who knows quite what the future will hold as both publishing and astronomy evolve. What I can say for sure is that I will continue to find ways to publish short fiction, but in a way that I can manage with the astronomy work and my writing commitments. At LepreCon last weekend, I had a great discussion with Jennifer Brozek, who has been nominated for the Hugo Award for best editor.

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We also got to play with a really cool Star Trek transporter prop. I can’t say too much about our discussions until more discussion happens, but I can say a viable project is in the works, and it might just be as much fun as playing with a working transporter console. Stay tuned.

Here’s wishing all of you a Happy Independence Day!

A Week of Editing

My third Clockwork Legion novel, The Brazen Shark is due at the publisher in just under a month. Ten Percent Solution In the memoir, On Writing, Stephen King says, “Your job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft—one of them, anyway—is to make that something even more clear. This may necessitate some big changes and revisions. The benefits to you and your reader will be clearer focus and a more unified story. It hardly ever fails.” One of the tools I’m using to clarify things in the second draft of The Brazen Shark is a little book called The 10% Solution by Ken Rand, shown here in front of my keyboard.

Phyllis Irene Radford, my editor on Lightning Wolves introduced me to The 10% Solution and I now see that Sky Warrior Books recommends that all authors apply the book’s methods before submitting a manuscript for publication. In short, the method is to use your word processor to highlight the adverbs, the over-used words, and the wishy-washy verbs and adjectives like “was” and “very” so you can evaluate them, so you can decide if you can say them more clearly or in a stronger way. Lightning Wolves clearly benefited from the technique and I feel The Brazen Shark is getting stronger as I work through it using Ken Rand’s methods.

Not only am I editing the novel, I recently received notes from an editor about a story I’d submitted to an anthology she’s editing. In essence, her notes went right to the same point. She was working to get me to be more clear and precise. I’d written the story before I read The 10% Solution, but after going through her suggestions, I’m guessing the story would have needed less work if I’d applied those lessons ahead of time. Fortunately, she likes the story enough that it’s likely to appear in the anthology. The first moral of the story is that a good story can sell even if it needs work, so don’t worry too much about making it perfect. The second moral of the story is that your chances greatly improve the better the story is the first time around!

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Finally, I’m in the process of editing Tales of the Talisman volume 10, issue 4. This will be the last issue before we take a break. Stories will be going out to the artists early next week. At this point, I suspect we’ll get the issue out in June. Although it’s a little sad to think about this phase of the magazine coming to an end, I have been excited to think about the directions we might take in 2016. Once I get The Brazen Shark turned in, I hope to start making more definite plans. Stay tuned!