The Cost of Opening the Crypt…

…just went down! Courtesy of my publisher, the ebook edition of The Astronomer’s Crypt is being offered for the special price of 99 cents for the rest of the month. The ebook normally runs $4.99, so this is a remarkable 80% discount, which means it’s a great time to pick up a copy for your ereader. If you’re already a fan, consider gifting one to a friend!

The Astronomer’s Crypt tells the story of astronomers, ghosts, drug dealers, and a monster from Apache legend colliding at a remote observatory during a violent thunderstorm. As followers of the web journal know, I’m an astronomer who operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory. The observatory is 56 miles southeast of Tucson, Arizona. The last ten miles of the drive up to the observatory are up a road that winds and twists its way up the mountain. Once you reach the summit, you find a virtual city consisting of twenty-two optical telescopes and two radio telescopes. Even so, after the sun goes down, many of the telescopes on the mountain are automated and some are only operated part time. It’s not unusual for there to be only a handful of people at the observatory at night. That all noted, Kitt Peak is both quite accessible and quite well staffed compared to some astronomical facilities where I’ve worked.

I have worked many nights in my career at observatories where I’ve been one of perhaps two or three people on a remote mountain site. It’s dark. The insides are the buildings are kept deliberately dim so your eyes can adjust if you need to go outside and evaluate sky conditions. In a wilderness situation, wild animals can and do make it inside the buildings. It’s so quiet, you hear every creak and groan of the building. You’re working late at night and you’re tired and not always thinking clearly. You’re trying to focus on the data you’re taking. It’s easy for a person in those conditions to imagine many scary things.

The Astronomer’s Crypt is a book made up of many of those dark imaginings, some of which are not far from the truth. Over the years, I’ve encountered unexpected people at observatories during the night. Fortunately, most have been cooperative and left when asked, but I have wondered what I’d do if I encountered truly bad people. I’ve been to observatories such as Lowell in Flagstaff, where there are real mausoleums on the site, where people who loved astronomy are interred. It’s not hard to imagine ghosts wandering around at those places. I’ve been through many terrible storms, sometimes with sheets of rain pushed by winds in excess of 70 miles per hour. On those nights, nature itself is terrifying. You can get a sense for how all of this combines in the novel by watching the trailer:

Two years before the events of this trailer, on a stormy night, in the dead of winter, Mike Teter experienced something that would change his life forever. Mike was a telescope operator at the world renowned Carson Peak Observatory in New Mexico. I won’t tell you what he saw that night on the mountain nor what happened afterward on a dark stretch of highway, because it would haunt you just as it has haunted Mike. But what I will tell you is that Mike is back at Carson Peak. And what he witnessed that night two years ago is about to become a reality…

You can pick up The Astronomer’s Crypt for just 99 cents at:

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Facing Monsters

This week, many of us will be visited by an assortment of monsters coming to our doors to politely ask for treats. It’s likely we’ll see zombies, vampires, assorted creations of Dr. Frankenstein, and perhaps even some scary clowns. Many of us will also watch scary movies featuring these same monsters, or settle into a comfy chair to read a spooky book.

So, why exactly do these monsters hold sufficient power over us that we still devote an unofficial holiday to them? I think it’s safe to say most of us don’t believe we’re hiding from evil spirits by dressing up. Most of us have access to food and housing and despite the fears many politicians would like to instill in us with help from the media, we are, on the whole, pretty safe.

I came across a fascinating article at PBS.org that addresses the question of why we fear monsters by Leo Braudy. If you want to read it, you can find it at: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/column-well-always-obsess-fear-monsters

In the article, Braudy suggests that societal changes over the last couple of centuries have given rise to five monstrous archetypes. I’ve had some fun thinking about how the monsters from my novels might fit into these groups. The titles are links and you can click on them to learn more about the books.

The monster from nature represents forces humans think they’ve harnessed but haven’t. The monster I’ve written that fits that best would be “He Who Kills With His Eyes” from The Astronomer’s Crypt. He’s an ancient Native American elemental spirit released from his prison on the story’s hapless observatory and is very much kin to monsters like Godzilla or the shark from Jaws.

The created monster represents our own creations turning against us. The super soldier vampires of Vampires of the Scarlet Order represent this danger. Scientists use nanites to create these monsters who represent a danger not only to humanity but to parallel worlds.

The monster from the past represents a creature from our pagan past who challenges our Judeo-Christian beliefs. Braudy suggests Dracula is an example of this. My Scarlet Order vampires from Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order do have elements of this in that they have great strength and immortality without recourse to a deity. The ghosts in The Astronomer’s Crypt might be better examples of this in that they haven’t moved on to heaven or hell and they gain strength from the release of dark forces.

The monster from within represents our own repressed, dark psychology. The duality of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde is a classic example, but I think my Scarlet Order vampires are good examples of this as well, especially in Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order where Alexandra and Draco must face the monsters they’ve become in becoming vampires.

The monster hoard which is the mindless, intractable collection of monsters such as zombies. For this, I’m actually going to turn to my steampunk works. The hive mind Legion and those humans Legion controls and connects in Owl Dance have certain zombie-like properties. At the very least, they represent giving oneself over to the collective like the Star Trek’s Borg.

So, what’s your favorite monster? Which of these archetypes does it fall into, or does it defy classification?

Hope you have a happy and safe Halloween and the only monsters you face are fictional ones.

A Wager of Blood

Ten years ago, I had the pleasure of editing a truly spooky horror novel called A Wager of Blood by J.W. Coffey. It’s a murder mystery with ghosts that transcends time itself. The first edition went out of print a while ago, but Hadrosaur Productions has a few copies in stock and we’re pleased to offer them at a 50% discount from the cover price.

Here’s the cover blurb: “On a night in 1760, Matthew Harper played a seemingly innocent game of chance in the parlor of the inn he owned. But, before the night was over, the inn belonged to Newell Thornton. Matthew, his wife, and two other people lay murdered and the Inn burned to the ground. 240 years later, Zachery Harper is determined to reclaim the Thornton Inn for the Harper family. What he doesn’t know is the old Inn holds the key to that ancient murder, the gateway into Zachary’s private hell, and the souls of the four murdered people. He is soon swept up into a diabolical game of chance where his own soul is the prize, and dice are loaded against him in a demonic wager of blood.”

One of the things that was fun for me assembling the first edition of the book is that the game of craps features strongly in the novel. I designed a little dice image for the section separators. The novel has eight great reviews over at Amazon.

The author, J.W. Coffey put together a neat book trailer for the novel that tells you a little more:

A Wager of Blood makes a good, fast spooky summer read. It might be a little to scary if you wait to read it when the nights turn chill in the run-up to Halloween! You can order the novel at: http://hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#Wager-Blood

Queen Mary Ghosts

Back in 2012, I wrote a guest post about a strange, possible ghost encounter I had aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach for Gayle Martin’s Accidental Ghost Hunter Blog. I’m sorry to say, Gayle is no longer maintaining the blog, so the original post is no longer available. I’m reposting it here so it’s still available for your reading enjoyment.

These photos are from a ghost tour my daughter and I took during Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium held aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach California on Friday, January 13, 2012. The strangest incident that happened was when we went to the first class swimming pool aboard the ship. It’s a noted “hot spot” for ghost sightings. The first photo shows the pool.

Off the upper balcony, we went into the women’s dressing rooms. I snapped a photo of the corridor. When I took the photo, I thought I saw a person in the flash and indeed, there is a strange, almost human-shaped shadow in the photo. I assumed it was one of my fellow tourists, but when I walked up the hallway, I didn’t pass anyone or see any other people ahead of me in the corridor or the dressing rooms. I did get a serious case of the willies as I walked further down the hall and the hairs raised on the back of my neck.

When I downloaded the photo onto my computer, I assumed the shadow I captured was some strange trick of the light. However, I then did a simple brightness/contrast adjustment and adjusted the color curves a little in Adobe Photoshop and the image below popped out. I should note, the hallway was completely dark. The only illumination came from my flash. If this was a fellow tourist, they were standing in the dark with this apparently non-nonchalant pose. They had no flashlight and the flash didn’t seem to illuminate them.

Another place that felt very eerie to me was the old boiler room. This photo was taken just outside the boiler room.

Inside, the boiler room, I took several photos. I kept feeling like I was seeing something move outside the corner of my eye. The one thing that I may have captured is the green glow in the lower left hand corner of the bottom photo.

I’m a professional astronomer and writer. I’m also an admitted skeptic. I’m hard pressed to say these photos serve as hard evidence of ghost encounters. Despite that, these photos do raise questions for me—especially the one taken in the dressing rooms. That said, incidents like this do provide inspiration for writing books like The Astronomer’s Crypt.

Imagining a Haunted Observatory

I’m excited to have a new book out as we go into the holidays at the end of 2016. I thought it would be fun to revisit a couple of posts I wrote at the Scarlet Order Journal when I was writing The Astronomer’s Crypt that discuss the inspirations for the novel. Also, I’m giving away a Kindle copy of the novel. Scroll down to the bottom of the post to find out how to enter! The novel takes much of its inspiration from my work at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Southern Arizona. One of the telescopes I operate is the observatory’s flagship telescope, the Mayall 4-meter shown here.

4-meter

Since I wrote my original post, I have heard stories that chairs in the old lounge on the so-called Utility floor could sometimes be seen to be rocking by themselves, as though occupied by ghostly inhabitants. Also, one night back in the 1990s, I once could have sworn I saw a flashlight beam from the catwalk. When I called the telescope operator on the radio though, I was assured no one was outside.

Even without these scary stories, the Mayall is eighteen stories tall. On a typical night, only three or four people inhabit the building. It’s a big space that literally moans in the wind. One night, the power went out and I had to climb the staircase in the dark, accompanied by nothing but the sound of creaking vents and the thudding of my own heart.

4-meter-stairs

When it was built, the plan was for astronomers to stay in the building. Later, it was found that heating the rooms made for poor images at the telescope. So, the rooms were abandoned. They still exist, and are used for storage, but it can be a little unnerving to walk down an empty hallway that curves around the building, frozen in time from the early 1970s.

4-meter-dorms

Large as the building is, there are also some rather cavernous spaces. Again, some of these spaces are used for storage. You can find computers from the 70s, 80s and 90s, plus parts from outdated instrumentation. When you walk into a space like this, is it so hard to imagine something lurking in the shadows?

4-meter-storage

The 4-meter telescope is a large, sophisticated machine. A lot of power is needed to run it, and pipes carry such fluids as water, glycol, and even oil throughout the building. There are numerous service facilities throughout the structure. Some of the spaces remind me of something from a science fiction film. What could be lurking around the corner in this photo?

4-meter-tunnel

The Mayall 4-meter is an amazing facility. It’s the place where the observations that led to the discovery of dark matter were made. It’s about to undergo a refit that will put it on the forefront of dark energy research. Personally, I’ve seen everything from asteroids to distant supernovae to gravitational lenses at the telescope in this building. However, on some dark and stormy nights, I’ve walked down some of these corridors and wondered if I really was alone!

astronomers-crypt-453x680

The Astronomer’s Crypt is now available as an ebook at the following retailers:

In honor of the season, I’m giving away a copy of The Astronomer’s Crypt for Kindle. Click the following link to see if you’re an instant winner: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/c1ab0e67aed8c0d9 .

The giveaway ends on January 6, 2017.

Remembering Houdini

Happy Halloween! I hope everyone dropping by will have a safe and enjoyable celebration. This Halloween finds me operating the Mayall 4-meter telescope instead of trick-or-treating, but I do plan to bring some spooky reading with me to the telescope to celebrate the occasion.

Today also marks the ninetieth anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death. Houdini fascinated me as a kid and the more I’ve learned about him over the years, the more he intrigues me. Not only was he an amazing escape artist and magician, but he was a pioneer in both cinema and aviation. However, what has always fascinated me most was Houdini’s work as a skeptic. The photo below shows Houdini in a “spirit” photograph of him interacting with Abraham Lincoln through the magic of a double exposure.

500px-houdini_and_lincoln

Houdini became interested in the occult and spiritualism after his mother died in 1913. He wanted to contact his mother beyond the grave. However, back in his early days as a performer, he masqueraded as a spiritual medium himself and began to recognize that the mediums he contacted had just updated and recycled tricks he himself once used. Ashamed of his own past, he started a crusade to expose fake mediums and show people how they performed their tricks.

By 1925, Houdini’s show went from his familiar routine of escapes and magic tricks to showing how psychics and spiritualists performed their tricks. Houdini chronicled his exploits in a book entitled A Magician Among the Spirits which he co-authored with C.M. Eddy Jr. Reportedly, it’s this book which cost Houdini his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes.

Doyle himself was a strong believer in spiritualism, though interestingly he’s associated with his own share of intellectual fraud. Probably the most famous case was helping to publicize the Cottingly Fairies. In this case, two young cousins photographed themselves with dancing pixies. However, the cousins later confessed that the “fairies” were illustrations from a popular children’s book of the day called Princess Mary’s Gift Book. I first read about this case in James Randi’s book Flim Flam. Of course, Randi himself was influenced to investigate the paranormal by Houdini. I was honored to meet the Amazing Randi when I was in college, where he did his own demonstration of psychic “magic.”

In 1926, Houdini planned to start a new book about religious miracles with C.M. Eddy Jr. and none other than H.P. Lovecraft. Although an outline and three chapters were written, plans for the book were derailed by Houdini’s untimely death later that year.

Despite Houdini’s efforts to debunk the paranormal, his widow Bess went on to attempt to contact her dead husband through the aid of spiritualists. It’s said her final attempt happened eighty years ago tonight on October 31, 1936. The séance was broadcast on the radio. The medium, Ed Saint, called out on to Houdini to make himself known, but no answer came. After an hour, Bess called an end to the séance. At that point, a very localized, violent storm broke out. Supposedly it was clear over the surrounding area. It only rained over the séance location.

I hope you stay warm and dry this Halloween and may all your encounters with ghosts and spirits prove pleasant ones.

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!