The Coming of the King

Last week, I finished reading Nikolai Tolstoy’s novel The Coming of the King. Tolstoy draws from such diverse sources as The Mabinogion, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, Beowulf, and the Norse Eddas to tell a story of post-Arthurian Britain through the eye of Merlin. This Merlin isn’t the advisor of Arthur we’ve come to expect from works like T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, but rather a shaman living nearly a century after Arthur’s defeat at Camlan.

The book runs the gamut from action, to ribald humor, to surreal visions. I especially loved the fact that one of Merlin’s teachers is the Salmon of Lyn Liw. At times this is a dense and challenging read and I’m not sure I would have gotten as much out of it if I hadn’t read several of the stories of The Mabinogion plus some of the Norse Eddas. Still, I found this a compelling look through the eyes of a Celtic shaman and may have to give this another read in the future.

Tolstoy himself is something of an interesting figure. I gather he’s a distant cousin of Leo Tolstoy. He’s also the stepson of Patrick O’Brien, who wrote the outstanding Aubrey & Maturin series of naval epics set during the Napoleonic wars. Having grown up in Britain, Tolstoy developed an interest in Arthurian literature, and I especially enjoyed his non-fiction book, The Quest for Merlin. That book introduced me to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, which in turn inspired my poem “The Passage of Merlin” which was reprinted at Eye to the Telescope earlier this year.

When I first discovered Arthurian literature and started processing it, I had a vision of creating a work similar in scope to Tolstoy’s The Coming of the King. I envisioned telling the ultimate Arthurian tale. Of course, many far-more-noted authors have also done so, ranging from Mark Twain to John Steinbeck to the aforementioned T.H. White. Tolstoy sidestepped the trap of writing “yet another Arthurian fantasy” by writing about people who lived a generation or two after Arthur and were influenced by his legacy.

I’m often asked how an author can create fantasy that isn’t derivative of the epic fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien or the sword and sorcery of Robert E. Howard. One answer is simply to read the classics. The ones Tolstoy drew from are good choices. Grimm’s fairy tales are also good choices. In that way, a writer can get to the roots of fantasy. From that basis, you can start adapting the themes and types of characters to situations and locations that mean something to you.

My first professional fantasy (and steampunk) sale was a story I was moved to write after reading Moby Dick and then Ray Bradbury’s accounts of writing the novel’s screenplay. I replaced sailing ships with airships and whales with dragons and wrote “The Slayers” which was published in Realms of Fantasy. You can learn about the reprinted edition at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/slayers.html.

As for Arthurian legends, I had a lot of notes and ideas and wrote some stories. I added vampires and my love of the movie Nosferatu and melded it into Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. You can learn more about the novel at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

Of course, a lot of these old stories can be dense and a challenge to follow. One of the ways I dealt with that was by retelling the stories in my own words and finding the parts that were important to me and emphasizing them. I felt brave enough to record one of those retellings and put it up for sale several years ago. It’s my retelling of Culhwch and Olwen from The Maginogion.

I was really fortunate that the story also captured the imagination of a co-worker from Kitt Peak named Kevin Schramm, who also played accordion for an outstanding band called The Mollys. Kevin and Mollys lead singer Nancy McCallion were kind enough to record some music for my reading. You can find out more about the recording at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/cando.html. Just one word of caution if you go to buy the audiobook at Amazon, make sure to go to the Marketplace sellers and buy it from Hadrosaur Productions, and not the person who thinks they can get more than $600 for my recording. It would be nice if they shared some of their profits with me if they actually managed to sell the CD for that price!

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Tales of Paranormal Steampunk Kickstarter

Today, I want to tell you about an exciting new Kickstarter from eSpec Books which has already funded and is working on stretch goals. eSpec will be publishing three books of paranormal steampunk. These include the novel The Clockwork Witch by Michelle D. Sonnier and the eShort Spirit Seeker by Jeff D. Young. The third book is After Punk, Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Greg Schauer. I’m excited to see that the project has funded. What’s more, my short story, tentatively titled “The Scientist, The Spiritualist, and the Mummy” was one of the stretch goals and that goal has been reached, so it will be part of the book.

Here’s the blurb for the anthology After Punk that my story will appear in:

    While mankind can scarce hope to pierce the Veil without crossing it, a few intrepid souls will ever bend their will against the aether, combining artifice and the arcane to uncover its secrets.

    From voodoo death cults to the Day of the Dead, mummy parties, the wheel of reincarnation, the practice of death portraits, and so much more, these tales leave no gravestone unturned.

    Be it heaven or hell or the limbo in between, the hereafter is about to get ‘Punked.

    With stories by Jody Lynn Nye, David Sherman, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, James Chambers, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jeffrey Lyman, Bernie Mojzes, Travis I. Sivart, Jeff Young, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

My story is about a scientist who invites a spiritualist to a wild mummy unwrapping party. This was a fun story to write and I look forward to it being part of the book. Even though this stretch goal has been reached, there are lots of other great stretch goals that can be met before the Kickstarter finishes. These include a bonus short story by Gail Z. Martin and Larry Martin, a novella by Michelle D. Sonnier, and illustrations in the books! While you can buy the books after they’re released, Danielle Ackley-McPhail always provides a lot of extras for supporting the Kickstarters. So this is a great time to reserve your books!

To support the Kickstarter campaign or to learn more, visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/tales-of-paranormal-steampunk

Discovering New Authors

On March 10, I’ll be moderating a panel at the Tucson Festival of Books called “Magical History.” The festival encourages moderators to be familiar with the works of the panelists and I think that’s an excellent idea, so I’ve been reading a selection of their books. As it turns out, I’m already a fan of Gail Carriger’s work, but this gave me a chance to read more of her books. I also am familiar with Beth Cato’s writing, because I published her poetry a number of times in Tales of the Talisman, however this gave me the long-overdue excuse to read one of her novels for the first time. Mindy Tarquini and Melodie Winawer are both new writers to me and it’s been a pleasure to see their take on the idea of “Magical History.”

Reading a book by an author you’ve never read before can be a daunting prospect. Will they satisfy your taste? Will their prose style transport you to a place you want to go? Will they move at a pace you’re comfortable with? Recommendations by friends who share your taste is a great option. In this case, moderating a panel with a topic that interests me and with a couple of authors I’m already acquainted with provided me with recommendations for a couple of additional new authors.

Another great way to discover new authors is by reading anthologies with themes you care about and that maybe include an author or two you already like. An anthology is a way for an editor to present several stories they like which address the theme. In a sense, the editor is recommending a bunch of authors to you. What’s more, you get a bunch of short stories so you may sample those stories without committing to a whole novel.

That said, I’ll bet if you look at reader reviews of almost any random anthology you will find at least one and perhaps several reviews that say, in essence: “There were some terrific stories and there were some terrible stories.” To be honest, I don’t find these very helpful reviews. Speaking as an anthologist, it’s my job to find a variety of stories that address the anthology’s theme. I like to find stories from a diverse group of writers with different backgrounds. It’s not always possible to know cultural background or even gender from a name on a submission, but a person’s background and experiences are often reflected in the stories they tell. I like to mix it up and give readers stories I think are a sure bet most readers will love and a few that I think challenge the reader. Because of that variety, I know there’s a risk not every reader will love every story. For that matter, I don’t love every story from most anthologies I read, but I often love some enough that I want to seek out more stories or even a novel by some of the authors.

There are lots of great anthologies out there to sink your teeth into. You can discover a lot of great ones just by looking at older posts here at the Web Journal (and if you keep reading, I’m sure I’ll be telling you about more in the future!) If you care to explore the anthologies I’ve had a hand in curating, visit: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#anthologies

Weredragons

One of the most awesome scenes in Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty is when the sorceress Maleficent turns into a dragon to do battle with Prince Phillip. It’s beautifully executed, frightening, and you realize that strange headpiece Maleficent wears is reminiscent of dragon horns and you wonder whether the dragon or the human is her “true” form. Ever since I saw that, I felt like the idea of a human who could transform into a dragon had a lot of story potential.

What’s more the idea of a humans who can become dragons and vice versa have some mythic basis. After all, Fafnir in Nordic legend is a dwarf who is turned into a dragon through the power of a cursed ring. In the Grimms’ story “The Dragon and His Grandmother”, we’re introduced to a dragon who has a human grandmother. Although it’s not part of the story, one gets the impression that either the grandmother is a dragon in human form or the dragon is her transformed grandson.

It’s because of this relatively untapped potential, that I was excited to see the novel Lost Sons by fellow Lachesis Publishing author Greg Ballan. Not only is there a beautiful dragon on the cover from artist Laura Givens, but the description tells us the story’s protagonist, Duncan Kord is a Viking Warrior who was saved at the moment of death by a race of advanced beings who “infused his body and mind with the essence of a powerful dragon.” I knew I had to read this book.

As the novel begins, Duncan uses his superhuman strength to save an Amish village from a biker gang. He’s banished for his efforts because the elders don’t want the children to learn violent ways. Kord respects the elders enough to abide by their decision even there’s no requirement for him to do so. He goes across country and settles in Alaska, where he stumbles upon a corporate war between two oil companies which threatens to turn into a real shooting war. What’s more, the CEO of one of two oil companies is none other than the man who brought him to his moment of death back in the Viking days. The people who saved Kord also saved the man who nearly killed him almost 1500 years before. That man is now known as William Jefferson Sagahr.

Lost Sons is the first part of a bigger story. In this novel, Kord fights to bring peace to his newly adopted home of Caribou Point, Alaska and hopes to lure Sagahr into a confrontation. However, Sagahr refuses to be baited and remains focused on his feud with a rival oil company. In the process, we learn that Sagahr has also been infused with powers and that he and Kord have tangled at least one other time after the initial battle where they nearly took each other’s lives. While in Caribou Point, Kord begins to fall for a waitress. As a powerful immortal he knows the pain of watching comrades die over the centuries, but that doesn’t prevent him from being swept up by his emotions.

One of the challenges of writing a character who can transform into a dragon is to hint at the abilities without overusing them. Also, we need a good reason why he doesn’t turn into a dragon at every opportunity it could possibly be an advantage. Greg does a great job of this and roots it to Kord’s underlying humanity giving us a reason to care about him. Lost Sons kept me turning pages and I look forward to seeing what happens in the second installment of this series. As it stands, this book is a great new addition to the lore of people who can transform into dragons.

You can find the book at Amazon and Lachesis Publishing.

WordFire Press Super Showcase Bundle

One of this year’s great pleasures has been getting to know Kevin J. Anderson better. Not only do we share a table of contents in the weird western anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, but he served as the publisher of the anthology Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. As we come to the end of year, I’m proud to learn that Kevin has selected Maximum Velocity to be part of a terrific story bundle that includes many titles from WordFire Press.

This Super Spotlight features 17 different WordFire Press titles that highlight an amazing range of titles and authors. You can get all 17 books for a minimum price of $15—but feel free to pay what you feel they’re worth. The bundle only runs Dec 6-28.

A part of the proceeds will go directly to the worthy Be a Santa nonprofit run by Patricia Tallman (from Babylon 5 and Night of the Living Dead). It’s a real honor to help support this great cause created by a person whose work I’ve long admired.

The bundle includes Kevin’s novel, Death Warmed Over, the first novel in his Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series. There’s also the fun and exciting Monsterland, by Michael Okon, the Goonies meets Jurassic Park with monsters. And JB Garner has Indomitable, the first in his entertaining superhero trilogy.

If you like unusual detectives who aren’t zombies, there’s Brooks Wachtel’s beautifully illustrated and innovative Lady Sherlock and David Boop’s noir She Murdered Me With Science. Or maybe you prefer werewolves with PTSD? Then try Julie Frost’s Pack Dynamics. In other Fantasy and Urban Fantasy, there’s Griffin’s Feather by J.T. Evans and First Chosen by Todd Gallowglas. Death Wind by Travis Heerman and Jim Pinto is a weird western horror novel, while Mike Baron’s Banshees proves that death doesn’t have to put an end to sex, drugs, and rock & roll.

In the edgier, dark thriller category, Jeff Mariotte’s Empty Rooms and Colum Sanson-Regan’s The Fly Guy will keep you awake at night better than espresso at midnight. Aaron Michael Ritchey’s post-apocalyptic adventure Dandelion Iron is about a strong young woman trying to lead a cattle drive in the West after the fall of civilization. And The Crown and the Dragon is a colorful epic fantasy with (as the title suggests) crowns and dragons, as well as a few swords and magic.

If you want a lot of short stories, the bundle includes three anthologies, A Fantastic Holiday Seasons, with everything from zombies for Thanksgiving to aliens at Christmas: perfect reading for this time of year. Award-winning Mike Resnick has Away Games, a collection of his stories about sports and science fiction. Last but not least, Maximum Velocity is a collection of science fiction adventure stories curated by Carol Hightshoe, Dayton Ward, Jennifer Brozek, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and me.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Go check out the Story Bundle. There’s lots to enjoy. Thanks for your support of small press publishing and the wonderful Be a Santa organization. Remember, the WordFire Press Super Showcase RUNS ONLY THROUGH DEC 28.

The initial titles in the The WordFire Press Super Showcase Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:

  • Monsterland by Michael Okon
  • A Fantastic Holiday Season by Kevin J. Anderson and Keith J. Olexa
  • Empty Rooms by Jeffrey J. Mariotte
  • Maximum Velocity edited by David Lee Summers, Carol Hightshoe, Dayton Ward, Jennifer Brozek, and Bryan Thomas Schmidt
  • She Murdered Me with Science by David Boop

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus TWELVE more!

  • Death Wind by Travis Heerman and Jim Pinto
  • Away Games by Mike Resnick
  • Banshees by Mike Baron
  • First Chosen by M. Todd Gallowglas
  • Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson
  • Pack Dynamics by Julie Frost
  • The Crown and the Dragon by John D. Payne
  • Griffin’s Feather by J.T. Evans
  • Indomitable by J.B. Garner
  • The Fly Guy by Colum Sanson-Regan
  • Lady Sherlock by Brooks Arthur Wachtel
  • Dandelion Iron: The Juniper Wars Book 1 by Aaron Michael Ritchie

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com/wordfire. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

Fabulous Fables

Author Paul McComas recently sent me a copy of a book called Fables from Elsewhere by Dexter Dogwood. McComas wrote the foreword and served as the book’s editor. The book left me reflecting on the power of fable as a storytelling form.

Of course, many of us grew up with Aesop’s fables. In particular, I remember Jay Ward poking gentle fun at the fables with his Aesop and Son segments during The Bullwinkle Show. Because many of us encountered Aesop’s fables at a young age and because the lessons have become so ingrained, it’s easy to dismiss fables as simple kids stories in which talking animals dispense life lessons.

In fact, fables can do much more. They can tell us about the culture from which they originated, including that culture’s values. Fables don’t always present simple morals. Sometimes they give the reader something to ponder. They might even question a society’s values.

In both The Astronomer’s Crypt and my forthcoming novel Owl Riders, I used retellings of Native American fables to provide insights into the ways characters addressed problems they had to deal with.

In Fables form Elsewhere, Dexter Dogwood brings us a dozen fables from a distant world populated by such fantastic creatures as sladlours, trobligors, and cojolitors. It’s left as an exercise for the reader to determine whether this world was created in Dogwood’s fertile imagination or whether they he translated signals intercepted between two worlds. However these fables were conceived, they contain a mix of homespun wisdom, challenging concepts, and topics worthy of thought couched in simple, but not simplistic, tales of creatures making a life on a faraway planet. I now know the importance of song when harvesting snerfet plants and while some people only look at their feet, they may yet know the sky’s true color.

If you want to check out Fables from Elsewhere, you can pick up a copy at https://www.amazon.com/Fables-Elsewhere-Dexter-Dogwood/dp/1540504468/

Extinct?

In the spring of 2014, when I first visited New Orleans, I looked up at the statue of Andrew Jackson in front of the St. Louis Cathedral and thought, wouldn’t it be cool if Jackson was riding a hadrosaur instead of a horse. As that thought occurred to me, I could almost hear the bellowing of hadrosaurs echoing the walls of Pirate’s Alley behind the cathedral and I knew I wanted to write a story about the Battle of New Orleans with dinosaurs.

That fall, I went to MileHiCon in Denver and Dana Bell told me that she was considering an anthology about extinct and mythical creatures living outside their time. She wanted to ask what if those ancient creatures of so beloved in fiction, myth and science had not disappeared or been real? What type of uses might have been developed to handle them and how might man have felt about the thundering giants in yesterday’s, today’s, or tomorrow’s worlds? I pitched my idea and she invited me to send the story. I wrote it up, sent it in, and she ultimately accepted it. And now, I’m pleased to announce that Extinct? is available for sale and “Jackson’s Hadrosaurs” is the lead story in the volume.

What else will you find in the book? Imagine a sanctuary for dinosaurs that displaces humans. Raptors used on a distant planet as scouts for a new colony. Dodo birds leaving a record about what happened to them or an unusual way dragons help settlers. A conqueror who learns a hard lesson from a goddess and two children who create their own monster.

You’ll find lovely tales about those lumbering giants of old in ways not shown before, of those who ruled the skies and many others once thought to be mythical, and yet, here they appear in Extinct?

I’m thrilled once again to be listed in a table of contents alongside so many of my favorite authors. Here are the stories you’ll find in this anthology:

  • Jackson’s Hadrosaurs – David Lee Summers
  • The Horse Man – Rebecca McFarland Kyle
  • The Wizard and the Dinosaur Riding Pirate – Sam Knight
  • Flutterlight – Ronnie Seagren
  • One More Bad Decision – M.R. Anglin
  • Ryuu Poo – Tam Lin
  • Unmaking Lord Rex Tyran – A.M. Burns
  • Dunce de León – Quincy J. Allen and Aaron Michael Richey
  • Fury – Spencer Carvalho
  • Dinosaura & Hominana – Todd A. Walls
  • The Goons – Matt Bille
  • The Mask Maker of Venezia – C. John Arthur
  • Song of the Sireini – Sean Jones
  • Across the Blood-Stained Sea – Rob S. Rice
  • The Prophecy Foretold – Lorelei Suzanne
  • Dodo’s Atlantis – Tam Lin
  • Man Versus Rex – Denise Miller Holmes
  • Lift – R. Joseph Maas
  • Children of the Goddess – Carol Hightshoe
  • Best Decision – Dana Bell
  • Brown and the Allosaurus Wrecks – J.A. Campbell

One of the things I wanted to explore in my story was the notion of herbivorous dinosaurs somehow being “tame” or “safe.” I think anyone who has spent time on a farm or around animals knows that herbivores can be dangerous if not treated with respect. On another trip to New Orleans, I stopped at a rest area and saw a crane standing in a bog while an alligator swam around hunting. The bird and the reptile were completely at ease with each other. Both seemed much more interested in eating the fish that swam around them than fighting. It made me think of symbiotic relationships in nature and I began to wonder how alligators would react to dinosaurs. Would they be friends or enemies? You can see my approach in the story.

When I was in New Orleans this past summer, I drove out to the Chalmette Battlefield, site of the real Battle of New Orleans. I was gratified to see it that it was much as I pictured it from descriptions. What’s more, I found descendants of dinosaurs wandering the field.

Extinct? is available in print at: Amazon.com

And as an ebook at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0778XYJ67/