Steampunk CommuniTea Weekend

This coming weekend, I’m honored to be one of the participants in a great virtual event and everyone is invited! The event is the Steampunk CommuniTea Weekend, which is presented by the Tucson Steampunk Society, the Tea Scouts, Madame Askew and the Grand Arbiter, and the Temporal Entourage. This will be a weekend full of virtual panels, performances, and sundry adventures. To register for the weekend and receive a complete schedule of events once it’s available, go to: https://madame-askew.ticketleap.com/steampunk-communitea-weekend/

Registration for the event is free and includes access to the Zoom panels and Discord chats. There will be additional performances that will include an extra charge. You can get all the details on the event’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/events/336440080917274

Guests for this event include a number of my favorite writers, including Gail Carriger, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Karen Carlisle, and Beth Cato. There are also events with makers, artists, and costumers. I see many familiar faces from other steampunk events I’ve attended in the past such as my alter ego, David Lee, the Airship Ambassador, Kevin Steil, and costumer, Tayliss Forge. I’m especially excited to see that there will be a concert by Nathaniel Johnstone, one of my favorite musicians. The concert does cost extra, but it’s a very reasonable price.

You can see a complete listing of the guests along with information about them at: https://madameaskew.com/covidween-2020/

As of this writing, I will be participating in at least three events this weekend. At 7pm Pacific Daylight Time on Friday, April 8, I’ll join a discussion called “Libations with Literati.” I gather this will be a social hour where the guest authors and publisher will be on hand to chat about their work and and be available to ask questions. At 9pm, I will give my presentation “Mars: A Land Across the Aether” as Mars itself sits high in the sky. This has been a popular presentation at several steampunk events and this is a great opportunity for folks who can’t ordinarily travel to events to watch the presentation. At 2pm Pacific Standard Time on Saturday, I’ll join some of the other authors for “The Care and Feeding of Great Steampunk Stories.” I will certainly be sitting in on other events as well through the weekend.

I do hope you will join us for this wonderful, virtual steampunk event. It will be an opportunity to connect with steampunks from around the world and learn more about the fun of steampunk literature, arts, craft, and music.

Pandemic Past

Most of us are working to find ways of coping in the era of social distancing imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. My friend, Kenneth Silsbee, has come up with an innovative approach to create some social time by hosting a Friday evening “cocktail hour” where friends can gather via a Zoom conference call. It’s allowed me to connect to some of my college alumni friends and make some connections with Kenneth’s Seattle-area friends.

During the first of these cocktail hours, Kenneth asked whether any of the attendees had any family stories from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. All I remembered was a brief mention that my maternal grandfather was serving in the Army Air Corps in France during one of the pandemic’s waves. However, the question did make me think of a book I read two years ago when I prepared to moderate a panel called “Magical History” at the Tucson Festival of Books. The photo below shows me with the panelists, Beth Cato, Mindy Tarquini, and Gail Carriger.

The book I’ve been remembering is Mindy Tarquini’s The Infinite Now. In the novel, Fiora Vicente, the daughter of an Italian immigrant fortune teller living in Philadelphia, loses her parents to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 and is taken to live with a friend of the family in a tenement house. She takes possession of a magical curtain that allows her to see five minutes into the future. Afraid that the old man who has taken her in will die, she creates a bubble around the house to keep time from progressing. Meanwhile, a frightening healer seeks to entrap Fiora and take the curtain. The magic is subtle and metaphorical, and the author even introduces a bit of Clarke’s Third Law, the notion that sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic, at the novel’s end.

I’m sorry to have seen this year’s COVID-19 outbreak force the cancellation of the Tucson Festival of Books. That said, it’s clear from the way the virus is spreading that the organizers made the right call. Still, the Tucson Festival of Books has long been one of my favorite venues to meet and talk with authors from all around the country. In the panel, I not only discovered Mindy’s book, but I read books by Beth Cato and Gail Carriger as well. I highly recommend all their works if you’re looking for something good to read while social distancing.

As it turns out, the 2018 Tucson Festival of Books was not my first opportunity to meet Beth Cato. I had actually published her work on a few occasions in Tales of the Talisman Magazine. Volume 9, issues 2 and 4 along with Volume 10, issue 4 all have poems by Beth Cato and they are still in stock. As long as the post office is deemed an essential service, I’d be more than happy to pack up copies and send them to you. You can find all the issues of Tales of the Talisman at http://www.talesofthetalisman.com.

Pterodactyls, Mummies, and Magic

I’m beginning to think the French are particularly adept at making steampunk films. I enjoyed 2013’s Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart which had lovely animation and used steampunk images and metaphors to tell a tale of falling in and out of love that included among other things a loving tribute to Georges Méliès. Last week, I discussed the 2015 animated film April and the Extraordinary World drawn in the style of cartoonist Jacques Tardi. This week, I take a look at a film that precedes both of these, 2010’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, which is based on Jacques Tardi’s comic book series of the same name.

The film is directed by Luc Besson, probably best known in America as the director of The Fifth Element starring Bruce Willis. Adèle Blanc-Sec is a writer and adventurer living in 1912 who, as the movie opens, has traveled to Egypt to look for the mummy of the physician of Ramses II. Meanwhile, back in Paris, a professor uses mental powers to resurrect a pterodactyl at the French Museum of Natural History. The pterodactyl breaks free and manages to kill a high ranking French official. Like in The Fifth Element, many disparate characters and situations eventually come together, sometimes with humorous results. Sometimes tragedy ensues. In the end, I felt like I had been treated to a good and satisfying yarn.

As it turns out, the original comic series goes all the way back to 1976 and predates the K.W. Jeeter’s 1987 letter to Locus magazine where he gives Victorian fantasies the name “steampunk.” Even so, the adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec have all the hallmarks of good gonzo, historical fiction. We see a 1912—and even glimpse an ancient Egypt—where technology is so advanced for some, that it’s indistinguishable from magic. We see a pterodactyl brought back to life. For reasons that become clear over the movie’s course, we discover that Adèle wants to bring a mummy back to life. I have no problem calling this movie set just before World War I, steampunk.

Steampunk literature has brought us some strong female protagonists. Among them are Alexia Tarabotti in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, Briar Wilkes of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker and Agatha Heterodyne of Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius. I’d like to think that Fatemeh Karimi and Larissa Seaton of my Clockwork Legion novels could also stand by their sisters. There’s no question that Adèle Blanc-Sec qualifies. In fact, one thing that impressed me about the movie was Adèle’s lack of interest in romance. There’s a young scientist who is enamored with her, but she doesn’t share his infatuation. Her character isn’t defined by any kind of a romantic interest. Like many good action heroes, her character is defined by the object of her quest.

If you’re looking for a good steampunk romp, it’s hard to go wrong with The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. In its way, it’s very much an heir to Jules Verne’s own extraordinary adventures. Perhaps being a countryman of Jules Verne or Georges Méliès helps when you set out to make a steampunk film. I think Hollywood could do worse than pay attention to France’s successes in this area.

If you enjoy The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec and would like more rollicking tales featuring strong women, be sure to check out my Clockwork Legion Series.

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

What Is a Monster?

This past weekend, I was on a series of three panels with Gail Carriger at Gaslight Gathering in San Diego where we discussed a spectrum of topics ranging from Gothic literature to monsters in steampunk. Gail is the author of the well loved Parasol Protectorate steampunk series. On one of the panels we were joined by Dru Pagliasotti, author of the novel Clockwork Heart. The other two panels were moderated by DeAnna Cameron, author of the novel The Girl on the Midway Stage. In addition to these panels, I gave a presentation on the paranormal as it was perceived during the Victorian Age. Below is a photo from the first panel session.

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The overall experience proved to be a very in-depth discussion that started with our love of Gothic Literature and for many of us, how it got us started thinking about being writers and how the Gothics influenced almost all modern genre fiction from science fiction to horror to mystery to romance. We then moved on to a discussion of how monsters allow us to explore topics we might not otherwise get to explore in fiction. For example, werewolves allow us to explore the monster within. Vampires give us creatures who have a long-time outlook on humanity and can make observations that might seem trite coming from another creature. Of course mad scientists allow us to look at the morality of science itself.

What was perhaps the most interesting point of discussion for me came near the end of the three panels. One of the audience members asked us simply “What makes a monster?” The answer we came up with was that a monster must be corporeal, because monsters must have a physical, perhaps even visceral component. Monsters must be dangerous to humans in some way. In this sense, this allows for someone like Jack the Ripper, who is arguably a monster, though clearly in the form of a human. A monster is no longer monstrous when they are fully allied with humanity and pose no threat to the people they’re around.

One monster who seemed to show up in all the panels was Spring-heeled Jack, who I spoke about at length about a year and a half ago at The Scarlet Order Journal. It was even suggested that I should create a Spring-heeled Jack costume for a future steampunk event. I actually think such a costume would be a lot of fun to create, but it would be a challenge to figure out how to portray him. After all, he really was pretty monstrous in his earliest incarnation, attacking women with his metallic claws and breathing fire, which blinded a girl. Nevertheless, this is a challenge I’ll definitely consider.

Finally, despite Gaslight Gathering being a steampunk convention, it seemed my books which did the best in terms of sales were my Scarlet Order vampire novels, no doubt as a result of the theme. The vampires were pleased to get a chance to shine, though they do remind my readers that they will never, ever sparkle.

Gaslight Gathering and Other Steampunk Fun

gaslight-gathering-logo Next weekend, I’ll be at Gaslight Gathering in San Diego, California. This year, Gail Carriger, best selling author of the Parasol Protectorate Series will be Guest of Honor. Also presenting there will be my friends Madame Askew, Denise Dumars, Dee and Hal Astel, and Madeleine Holly-Rosing, creator of the Boston Metaphysical Society comic. The event will be held at the Town and Country Hotel from Friday, October 7 through Sunday, October 9. There will be costuming workshops, teapot racing, absinthe, movies and more!

Here’s my schedule:

Saturday, October 8

  • 10am-11am – Garden Salon One – Gothic Literature and Its Influence on Steampunk. I’ll join Writer Guest of Honor Gail Carriger, along with fellow steampunk writer Dru Pagliasotti for a lively discussion about Gothic literature and how it has influenced the Steampunk genre.
  • 1pm-2pm – Garden Salon One – Zombies, Vampires, and Ghosts – What are your favorite monsters? I’ll again join Guest of Honor Gail Carriger, along with fellow writer Todd McCaffrey for a panel that explores different monsters and paranormal creatures who have appeared in steampunk books. Which ones work best? Which are our favorites? Which didn’t work so well in both literature and the cinema!
  • 4pm-5pm – Vendor Hall – Autograph Session
  • Sunday, October 9

  • 10am-11am – Garden Salon One – Victorians and the Paranormal Presentation. We will look at ghosts, seances, spirit photography, and mysterious creatures such as Spring-Heeled Jack and Arizona’s ghost camels that have so fascinated our Victorian forefathers.
  • 11am-12pm – Vendor Hall – Autograph Session
  • 12pm-1pm – Taking The Horror out of Monsters. Not all monsters are monstrous. Some monsters are darn near lovable. Who are your favorite monsters and why do you like them better than certain people. On the panel with me are Gail Carriger and Todd McCaffrey.
  • doapromo2

    It seems fitting to announce the anthology Den of Antiquity in this post about forthcoming steampunk goodness. This anthology collects writings by members of The Scribbler’s Den, a writing group gathered on The Steampunk Empire, a great online social network for steampunk enthusiasts.

    When one thinks of a den, one tends to think of comfort. A cozy room in the house—a quiet, comfortable place, a room for conversation, reading, or writing. One doesn’t tend to think of high adventure, dragons, vampires, airships, or paranormal creatures. And yet, that’s just what you’ll find in these pages. Stories of adventure and mystery! Paranormal, dark, and atmospheric tales! The fantastical and the imaginative, the dystopian and post-apocalyptic, and everything in between!

    So settle in to the coziest room in your house, plop down into your favourite armchair, and dive in to the Den of Antiquity.

    This anthology which is slated for release on November 5 includes stories by Jack Tyler, E.C. Jarvis, Kate Philbrick, Neale Green, Bryce Raffle, N.O.A. Rawle, David Lee Summers, William J. Jackson, Steve Moore, Karen J. Carlisle, and Alice E. Keyes.

    My story in the anthology is called “The Jackalope Bandit” and it’s an exciting new story featuring Larissa and Professor Maravilla from my Clockwork Legion novels in a brand new adventure in which a six-foot tall mechanical jackalope robs banks and payrolls along the Rio Grande. Can Larissa and the professor solve this mystery from their armchairs in the den? Find out on November 5!