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.


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!

    Deadlines Approaching

    Today I’m writing from the Gaslight Gathering Steampunk Convention in San Diego, California. The theme of this year’s convention is “A Martian Holiday” and last night I conducted an excellent session of actually observing Mars through my 8-inch telescope. It’s always fabulous to see the wonder on people’s faces when they connect with places away from the Earth. Unfortunately, we were kicked out early when hotel security told us we couldn’t be in the pool area where we were set up.

    Lightning Wolves

    Writing work continues while I’m at the convention, since I have two fast-approaching deadlines. I recently received the latest edits to my novel Lightning Wolves. My editor only had a few suggestions and I’ve addressed those. I just need to give the manuscript one last read and write up the dedication and acknowledgement pages, then the book goes off for final formatting. I feel like a long journey is coming to a good end. Ideas are coming fast and furiously for the third novel in the series, The Brazen Shark, which I’ll be working on in the second half of this year.

    The other project that’s due soon is my horror novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. If you’d like to learn more, I’ve been writing about that more over at my other blog: dlsummers.wordpress.com. At this point, I estimate I have somewhere between 6000 and 8000 words to go. The novel tells the story of a disgruntled technician, fired from an observatory who unleashes a great evil. The novel pulls a lot from my experience at Kitt Peak National Observatory and other institutions. It’s true, I’ve seen some amazing stuff in the sky, but I’ve also had some pretty scary nights at the telescope. You’ll get to see a little of that latter part of my life in this book. Fortunately, my job isn’t quite as scary as I portray in the horror novel!

    I’ve been getting a little bit of work done here and there on these projects between events at the convention and visiting with people. I have two panels today. In the first, I discuss how Mars went from being a point of light in the sky to a real place in the eyes of the Victorians. In the second, I’ll be discussing Victorian, Steampunk, and Martian poetry. If you’re at Gaslight Gathering, feel free to ask me more about any of these projects and ask me about a “Heed the owls” badge ribbon. If you’re not at Gaslight Gathering, you’re more than welcome to ask questions in comments. I’ll be sure and swing by the computer to answer ASAP!

    Gaslight Gathering: A Martian Holiday

    The Gaslight Gathering Steampunk Convention will be held from May 2-4 in San Diego, California at the Town and Country Hotel. The theme is “A Martian Holiday” and I’m honored to be back as a presenter this year. Among the guests of honor are author Cherie Priest and Gentleman Rapper, Professor Elemental. You can find more information at the convention’s website: gaslightgathering.org.


    My schedule at Gaslight Gathering is as follows:

    Friday, May 2

      8:30-10:30 pm – Martian Astronomy Viewing. I’ll be bringing my 8-inch telescope to Gaslight Gathering. Weather permitting, drop by the pool area and catch a glimpse of the red planet!

    Saturday, May 3

      2:00-3:00 pm – Mars: A Land Across the Aether. Come to Garden Salon I and learn how Mars went from being a point of light in the sky to a place people dreamed of visiting during the Victorian Age. Among the people who studied Mars during the Victorian age were Queen Victoria’s watercolor teacher, a prominent Italian astronomer, the brother of Harvard’s president, and Nikola Tesla!

      4:00-5:00pm – Steampunk Poetry Salon Denise Dumars and I will be hosting a workshop and reading at the Brittany Room. Whether you are a late-Romantic, Pre-Raphaelite, Decadent, or Martian ambassador, we invite you to enjoy our literary salon and learn from these widely published poets. Bring your own work and a notebook or infernal device upon which to write.

    Sunday, May 4

      1:00-2:00pm – AutographingI’ll be signing my wares in the dealer’s room. Come learn what’s new and what I have coming soon!

    If you’re in San Diego next weekend, I hope I’ll see you at Gaslight Gathering!

    A Collaborative Adventure

    Myranda and Fish

    Today I’m in Albuquerque, getting ready to hear my daughter Myranda play bass in the New Mexico All-State Symphony Orchestra. She’s worked hard to be there. The last three years, she made the All-State Concert Orchestra. Making symphony is a step up in prestige for her and I’m proud she succeeded in this goal.

    As a writer, I love symphonies. At the basic level, the music often inspires my writing, making me think of stories. At a deeper level, I think it’s fascinating to see how all of those instruments come together to make a piece of music. Hollywood director Nicholas Meyer once said, “The director is a bit analogous to the conductor of a symphony orchestra. It’s a collaborative adventure.”

    Of course, writers often work alone, and the creation of a story or a novel doesn’t always feel very collaborative. However, at the fundamental level, a story is like a song and a novel is like a symphony. The writer uses the words like a composer uses notes. When the right words are used, its wonderful. When that doesn’t happen, the story or novel grates.

    That simple analogy aside, I have to say my best experiences as a writer have come from genuine collaboration. They’ve come when I’ve worked with an editor to improve an outline or to make the words in a finished work shine.

    I’ve also had great experiences working with artists illustrating my work. I know some writers who get very disappointed when an artist doesn’t interpret their writing exactly the way they imagined it. I actually find it fascinating when that happens. Sometimes it tells me I wasn’t as clear in my writing as I thought I was. Sometimes I see new things in my own writing that I had missed before. If I’m lucky enough to get the illustration before I’ve finished polishing a work, I’ve been known to go back and use elements from the illustration in the writing, making the process truly collaborative.

    My only regret about being in Albuquerque this weekend is that it coincides with Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. I had an excellent time participating as a writer the last two years and I hope I’ll be able to return next year. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll drop in. You’ll see the magic of Dyno Staats, hear music from such fabulous artists as Abney Park, Unwoman, and Lee Presson and the Nails, and much more. Clearly, though, it was important to celebrate my daughter’s accomplishment and I look forward to seeing many of my Southern California friends at San Diego’s Gaslight Gathering this spring!

    Gaslight Gathering Schedule

    From May 11-13, 2012, I’ll be one of the guests at Gaslight Gathering II: The Expedition in San Diego, California at the Town and Country Hotel. More information about the event is available at the website: http://www.gaslightgathering.org

    Here is my tentative schedule for the weekend:

    Friday, May 11

    2:pm-2:50pm – Chivalry and Courtesy in the Age of Steam – Is the art of polite conversation and good manners dead? Come discuss whether steampunk is appealing because we recreate a more genteel and courteous time. Scott Farrell, David Lee Summers. Brittany Room

    5pm-5:50pm Role of the Empire: Influences on Steampunk From Outside the US & UK – From the Congo to the vast outback of Australia, steampunk stories can take us far from our familiar streets and western frontiers. Listen as some of our most esteemed authors discuss the transcontinental power of steampunk to cross borders and visit exotic destinations. Nancy Holder, Tim Powers, David Lee Summers, James Hay (M). Garden Salon One

    7pm-8pm – Victorian Astronomy – The stars have always held a special fascination to us mere mortals who look up into the heavens. I’ll tell about some of the discoveries, inventions and mad scientists of the Victorian Age. If weather permits, we’ll view Mars after the presentation. David Lee Summers – Claredon Room

    Saturday, May 12

    1pm-2:15pm – Paranormal Steampunk – Sink your fangs into this amazing panel as our authors discuss the many supernatural species that have invaded the steampunk genre and why readers can’t get enough of them. Scott Farrell, Nancy Holder, Suzanne Lazaer, and David Lee Summers – Garden Salon Two

    5pm-6pm – How to Write Steampunk – Get ready to start writing your own steampunk story with some helpful hints from some of our incredible authors on how to get inspired and get your steamy ideas down on paper. James Blaylock, Nancy Holder, Suzanne Lazaer, and David Lee Summers. Brittany Room

    Sunday, May 13

    11am – Autograph Table – Dealers Room

    2pm-3pm – Victorian Magic Vs. Science – Magician Dino Staats again pairs up with scientist and author David Lee Summers to bring you the real story behind the Victorian views on science and magic. Dino Staats, David Lee Summers – Brittany Room

    3pm-4pm – Steampunk without technology?? – Come be part of a lively discussion on whether steampunk can exist without gears, gadgets and steam powered machines. Let the science fact versus the science fantasy debate on what the steampunk genre requires begin here! James Hay, Stephen Potts, Tim Powers, David Lee Summers. Brittany Room.

    A Steampunk Spring

    Happy Astronomy Day! Hope you get a chance to get outside and turn your gaze skyward tonight. As it turns out, Astronomy Day falls on one of my days off from the observatory this year, so I’m spending much of the day writing, but will be back to astronomy soon! In the meantime, I have a handful of new steampunk releases and a great steampunk event to tell you about.

    Gears and Levers

    First off, I’ll kick this off by telling you about Gears and Levers 1, a brand new anthology from Sky Warrior Publishing that includes my story, “The Pirates of Baja.” As you might guess from the title, there will be a Gears and Levers 2. It will feature the story “Endeavor in Halcyon” that I wrote with Kurt MacPhearson.

    Come, my friends, adventure and romance await in worlds that never were but should have been. Magic and science blend together as Gears and Levers explores the quest for all that makes up humanity. Battle pirates, travel back in time, fly in dirigibles, explore the wonders of the Orient, and walk with automatons in twenty amazing tales set in Steampunk lands by masterful storytellers such as David D. Levine, Brenda Clough, Mark J. Ferrari, Irene Radford, K.L. Townsend, Shannon Page, and Bruce Taylor, among others.

    My story in the collection tells the story of Ramon Morales, former sheriff of Socorro, New Mexico, who finds himself out of work in Los Angeles. He boards a ship on a mission to hunt pirates who have been sinking ships without firing a shot. He discovers the pirates possess an amazing new weapon: a submarine that can produce its own oxygen. The submarine in the story was inspired by a real-life submarine that was built in 1864 called the Ictineo II.

    The story is reprinted from my novel Owl Dance. If you’ve already read Owl Dance, you should still check out the anthology for the nineteen other great stories. If you haven’t read Owl Dance, this is a great, inexpensive way to sample the novel along with nineteen other great stories. The way I see it, you can’t lose! Go pick up a copy right now at:

    Tales of the Talisman

    The special steampunk issue of Tales of the Talisman is now available.

    In this issue, M.E. Brines transports us to the Western Front during the Great War when British soldiers must confront a new menace—a giant, steam-powered German soldier. Jonathan H. Self introduces us to Albion, a secret agent for the Empire. What happens when agents from the other side discover her true identity and threaten her family? Douglas Empringham takes us to the distant past and shows us a clockwork marvel, an amazing dancing doll. Our own art director Laura Givens takes us to San Francisco where Chin Song Ping must find a wedding dress for his beloved or else the world will end. He would have a much easier time if not for the tongs, Teddy Roosevelt and the dragons!

    Tales of the Talisman is a magazine of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Part of the fun of steampunk is that it encompasses all of these elements. We explore and push the boundaries in this issue, but the one thing we have not done is glued gears on it and called it “steampunk.” You can pick up a copy for yourself at:

    Cemetery Dance 66

    Cemetery Dance issue 66 is now available featuring my story “The Vrykolakas and the Cobbler’s Wife.”

    A vrykolakas is a creature of the night with properties of both a vampire and a wereworlf. My story is set in a small village in Greece in the year 1901. I’m hesitant to say this story is, in fact, a steampunk story. Even though it’s a horror story set during the Victorian age, there’s little in the way of steampunk technology here. Still, I think if you enjoy a good steampunk horror story, you’ll like this one. The issue is available at:

    Gaslight Gathering

    Gaslight Gathering, Southern California’s first dedicated Steampunk and Victoriana Convention, is coming up May 11-13.

    The guest of honor is Kaja Foglio, award winning author of the web comic Girl Genius. I’ll post my schedule here as soon as I have it, but I do know that I’ll be giving my Victorian Astronomy presentation with a few new twists and I’ll be joining Dino Staats to talk about magic and science, and maybe communicate with a few spirits. Of course, I’m happy to sign copies of Owl Dance or Cemetery Dance, or you could just ask me to dance at one of the great concerts! You can learn more about Gaslight Gathering and get tickets at: