Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis

In 1993, one of my co-workers at Kitt Peak National Observatory introduced me to the Vampire Chronicles of Anne Rice. At that point there were just four volumes in the series. I picked up a set and read straight through them. I loved the way her vampires were able to travel leisurely through history and see things in our modern world with wonder and passion. An example is the way 17th century French vampire Lestat de Lioncourt discovers rock and roll, makes it his own, and wakes the Queen of the Damned herself. This long view of history appealed to me both because of my inherent love of history and my love of science fiction. After all, that’s much of what science fiction is about, looking back at history, understanding how people and technologies change, and then projecting those changes into possible futures. Thanks in part to Anne Rice, I would try my own hand at vampire fiction, gave it a science fictional twist and Vampires of the Scarlet Order was born.

I’ve continued to follow the Vampire Chronicles over the years and it feels like a circle of sorts has been completed with her latest entry in the series. princelestatrealmsofatlantis As Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis opens, we learn that a vampire named Roland has captured a strange, human-looking creature. He can drink all the creature’s blood, which is more satisfying than even human blood, and the creature will appear to die. Despite this, the creature will awaken soon after, its blood regenerated. Roland shows this creature to the ancient and powerful Rhoshamandes, who has fallen out of favor with the vampire court led by Prince Lestat. Roland suggests the creature can be used as a tool for Rhoshamandes to regain power.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, another creature hears a familiar name in the radio broadcasts of the vampires. When he attempts to confront vampire Benji Mamoud who hosts the broadcast, vampires confront him and corner him. The creature then dispatches the two vampires. While all this is going on, Prince Lestat, back at the vampire court, has started having dreams of a great city that fell into the sea. Lestat has become prince of the vampires by becoming the host of Amel, the spirit responsible for the existence of the vampires in the first place.

From the title, it should come as no surprise that Lestat ultimately discovers a connection between the strange creatures, the spirit Amel, and the lost city of Atlantis. Like the vampires, the new creatures, who call themselves Replimoids, have aspects that are both likeable and frightening. This story of the Replimoids and Atlantis is the reason I feel like I completed a circle. The series that led me to my science fictional take on vampires has now taken its own science fictional turn. There’s a simplicity and almost innocence to Rice’s visions of advanced civilizations and their constructs that reminds me of the science fiction from the 1950s and 60s. This might be a little surprising for people used to contemporary SF, or used to some of the dark historical realities presented in the earlier Vampire Chronicles, but it mostly works in the context of the story.

Like the previous entry in the Vampire Chronicles, Prince Lestat, Rice tells the story from multiple points of view and we get to spend time with several of the vampires she’s introduced over the course of the series. In one of my favorite chapters, Lestat meets his old friend Louis de Pointe du Lac in New Orleans. I had fun following their walk through familiar French Quarter landmarks such as Cafe du Monde, Jackson Square, and Pirates Alley. As a long-time fan, this was all great fun, but I could imagine the stream of characters being a little overwhelming for a new reader.

As a fan of the Vampire Chronicles, I enjoyed spending time with Lestat, Louis, Marius, Benji, Gabrielle and the others again. I found this an interesting turn in the story and would be delighted to follow the vampires into another adventure. For people new to the Chronicles, I would suggest they start with the early volumes such as Interview with the Vampire or The Vampire Lestat and read through at least Queen of the Damned before diving into this latest volume.

Women Marshals of the Old West

Marshal Larissa Seaton is a character who appears in my novel The Brazen Shark from the Clockwork Legion steampunk series. Brazen Shark-300x450 She also appears in some of my short stories set in the same universe, including the story “Fountains of Blood” which will be in the upcoming Straight Outta Tombstone anthology. In my world, President Rutherford B. Hayes appoints her to be a U.S. Marshal after her work recovering a lightning gun from Curly Bill Bresnahan in the novel Lightning Wolves. It’s a fair question to look back at history and ask whether it’s realistic to imagine a woman marshal in 1877.

As it turns out, Larissa of my fictional world was only appointed marshal seven years before it happened in real life. phoebe_couzins In 1884, John Couzins was appointed marshal for the Eastern district of Missouri and he appointed his daughter Phoebe as one of his deputies. When John Couzins was killed in 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed Phoebe interim marshal. However, she only held the position for two months before a man was appointed as her full-time replacement. Not only was Phoebe Couzins the first woman to become a U.S. Marshal, she was the first woman in the United States to get a law degree and the first woman to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis. She was an early supporter of both women’s suffrage and the temperance movement. In later years, she actually renounced both and became an active lobbyist for the American Brewers Association.

There were several notable women deputies marshals with longer careers. ada-carnutt Perhaps the most famous was Ada Carnutt of Oklahoma. In 1893, she arrested nineteen men at the Black and Roger saloon in Oklahoma City for perjury. Shortly before Christmas that same year, she single-handedly arrested two forgers and escorted them to jail. The two heavily armed men supposedly scoffed at being arrested by an unarmed woman, but she pointed to the crowd around and told them she was willing to deputize every one of them to help her. Newspapers of the day noted that after the arrest she went back to her favorite hobby: china painting.

Even before Ada Carnutt, Mrs. F.M. Miller was making a name for herself as a deputy marshal in Paris, Texas. Unlike Ada Carnutt, Mrs. Miller had no problem carrying weapons. According to the November 6, 1891 issue of the Fort Smith Elevator, “The woman carries a pistol buckled around her and has a Winchester strapped to her saddle. She is an expert shot and a superb horsewoman, and brave to the verge of recklessness.” The article also noted that she was a “charming brunette” and wore a sombrero.

So, while true Larissa Seaton would have been the first woman U.S. Marshal in history if she existed, it wouldn’t be long before more brave women would stand alongside her. You can find Marshal Larissa in the following books:

On Writing Alternate History

There is a maxim that if you write a story set in history, you better be sure your research is meticulous because if you make a mistake, someone is going to let you know about it. However, it doesn’t take much research to realize the truth of another old saw, “history is written by the victors.” To complicate matters further, a lot of people know their history from popular culture such as other fiction books or movies, so sometimes our hypothetical “someone” mentioned at the outset might be complaining about history as they saw it portrayed in a movie, rather than anything they researched in depth.

Alternate history takes on an added dimension because you’re writing about a history that didn’t actually happen. At first cut, this might appear to be freeing because you’re not constrained by history. However, one of the reasons I write alternate history is because I like to consider what might have happened if something in history was nudged a somewhat different direction than actually happened or to imagine what history would have been like if a different element such as vampires or aliens were introduced. To make such alternate history credible, it’s good to be as realistic as possible.

The problem is, you still have the problem that history isn’t necessarily absolute. It’s not that there is no truth to history, it’s just that history is often interpreted through the lens of the person writing about it. Sometimes there’s a blatant agenda to that lens (“history is written by the victors”). Sometimes that history is filtered through social bias, perhaps unconsciously.

Other reasons I might write about alternate history are to comment on issues of the past, or to comment on issues of the present through the lens of the past. Again, both of these require some effort at accuracy to give weight to that commentary. That said, another reason I write alternate history is to spin a rip-roaring good yarn. Doing that, I have to make a judgement call between whether to follow history closely or deviate to suit the story.

My approach to plotting an alternate history story is to start by looking at the time period and location I’m interested in and learn as much as I can about the events going on there. I particularly like to read books and essays written by people living those events. Although Wikipedia is much maligned, I find it a great resource for historical photos of people and places.

Clockwork-Legion

My Clockwork Legion series is set in a world that, for the most part, mirrors our world up until an intelligent swarm of microscopic computers that calls itself Legion starts interfering in the affairs of 1870s Earth. One of the important parts of this statement is “for the most part.” I have allowed some differences in the world of the Clockwork Legion even before Legion’s involvement. I’ve done this for a few reasons. Admittedly one of those reasons is to simplify some plot elements. For example, the railroads are a little further along in the book than they were in history, which allows a little more freedom of movement, but for the most part the bump is by months rather than by years. Allowing the differences also gives me the freedom to make judgment calls on uncertain pieces of history where research and scholarly debate are still ongoing. Finally, it was important to me that Legion didn’t advance humanity by giving them the answers. The point of Legion is that the alien frees humanity’s dreams and saves some steps by helping them avoid mistakes.

I once heard an interview with Isaac Asimov in which he said to write science fiction, you don’t necessarily have to be a scientist or even get the science dead accurate. What you have to do is respect the scientific process and do the homework to make it plausible. I think the same applies to history. I’m a trained astronomer, not a historian, but I respect the work of historians and appreciate the process. Hopefully I’ve avoided making any mistakes, but if I do, hopefully I have enough of my history correct that you can believe the changes are the result of the subtly different world I’m creating.

I hope you’ll take a ride back in time with me and explore the world of the Clockwork Legion. Follow the links below to learn more about the novels.

Brazen Shark Cover Reveal

It’s now official, I have a cover and a release date for the third novel in my Clockwork Legion steampunk series. The Brazen Shark is scheduled for release on February 1, 2016. Brazen Shark-300x450 In The Brazen Shark, pirate captain, inventor, and entrepreneur Onofre Cisneros sweeps his friends Fatemeh and Ramon Morales off to Hawaii for their honeymoon. Once there, a British agent makes Cisneros an offer he can’t refuse and the captain must travel to Japan. Wanting to see more of the world, Ramon and Fatemeh ask to accompany the captain only to find themselves embroiled in a plot by samurai who steal a Russian airship, hoping to overthrow the Japanese emperor.

Not only can you get a look at the cover, but you can click here to read the novel’s entire first chapter. This is a bit of a departure from the first two books in the series in that it’s not set in the wild west. However, I assure you, Ramon Morales can’t travel overseas without taking his brand of wild west justice along with him even as he confronts such historical figures as Katsu Kaishū and Czar Alexander II. His new wife Fatemeh will encourage him to seek peaceful solutions, but her resolve will be strongly tested by the samurai Imagawa Masako.

If you haven’t read the other books in the Clockwork Legion series, this is a great time to start. The links below take you to the books’ pages on my website, which include links to most popular retailers.

Here’s wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season!

Steampunk Goes To High School

This past week, one of the local high school teachers invited me to speak to her creative writing class about steampunk. I thought I would share my outline of the presentation in case it was helpful, either for the particular case of presenting information about steampunk or any other genre writing.

I started out by finding out what the students knew about steampunk. This particular class didn’t know much, just had some idea that it had to do with the past, but one student piped up that he was a fan of cyberpunk. So, this led me into a discussion of steampunk’s roots in the 1980s and how K.W. Jeter coined the term in a letter to Locus magazine. This seemed to hook the class. I also pointed out that steampunk isn’t just a genre of writing, but it’s expanded into art, music, and even lifestyles. I passed around a copy of Robert Brown’s Lyrics of Abney Park which includes many wonderful illustrations and photos as a source of inspiration.

SummersOwlDance

One of the difficulties defining steampunk is that you can find whole web pages devoted to the subject. I settled on a definition that basically goes like this: Steampunk is a story set in a world that looks like the 1800s but features technology or magic that doesn’t seem to belong based on what we know about history. I pointed out that this allows for stories that are actually set in the 1800s and also those that might be set in the future after some kind of apocalypse wiped out society. I also noted that although it often falls under different names, people also write these kinds of alternate histories about other time periods as well.

I showed off my books and mentioned that my interest was in looking at history of the region and imagining what would have happened if technology had been given a push in some areas and developed a little faster than the history we know.

Perhaps my greatest challenge in this discussion was that most of these kids didn’t seem very excited by history or historical topics. Despite that, they seemed to perk up when I challenged some of their notions. For example, I asked, “what was the favored weapon of samurai warriors in the 1800s?” Several answered, “swords.” I then pointed out that swords aren’t very effective against armor. Although samurai did train extensively with swords, many realized guns were more effective in combat. We also talked about what Las Cruces was like in 1881 and what kids their age would have been doing and what kinds of things they would want if they went back to that time.

From there, I moved on to a discussion of my process as a writer and how I’m inspired by things around me. I folded in the earlier historical discussion by pointing out that I get curious about those places I drive by in my commute, such as the Council Rocks in Arizona where Apaches used to camp or the turnoff for Tombstone, Arizona. I talked about how I like to visualize things, then write them down. We also talked about some of the mechanics of submitting writing to magazines and anthologies.

I wrapped up the session by giving them a writing prompt. I had the students imagine they were teenagers in 1881 Las Cruces. Billy the Kid is in town. What happened when the airship arrived?

There was just enough time at the end of the class for a couple of students to share their stories. One told about troopers descending and preparing to invade, though we didn’t hear yet what they were after. Another student imagined that the airship belonged to Pat Garrett, who was seeking Billy the Kid. Now that last story is one I’d like to see finished for sure!

Women Samurai

This weekend, I’m at the ConDor Science Fiction convention in San Diego, California. Once I get home, I’ll be entering the home stretch on my novel The Brazen Shark, which is the third of my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels. One of the characters I’ve introduced in this novel is Imagawa Masako, a woman samurai who resists the Japanese imperial restoration.

Although somewhat rare, there were several notable women samurai. Typically referred to as “onna-bugeisha,” women warriors came from the bushi class, same as samurai. If a woman showed interest and ability as a warrior, she would be trained just as a man. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that more women were encouraged to become warriors in times of war than in peacetime.

Tomoe Gozen

One notable samurai was Tomoe Gozen who would have lived between about 1157 and 1247. In the “Tale of the Heike” it was written, “Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.”

There’s some question whether Tomoe was a real historical figure or not. However, many other characters from the “Tales of the Heiki” are known to have existed. What’s more, there are other documented women who became samurai such as Lady Hangaku and Hōjō Masako, who lent her given name to my samurai character.

Nakano Takeko

Once Japan became unified under the Tokagawa regime, fewer women were encouraged to become samurai, but there still are notable examples even as late as the nineteenth century. One example is Nakano Takebo. She fought in the Boshin War, which was part of the samurai struggle against the Meiji Restoration. She specialized in the naginata, the Japanese version of the polearm, and led a corps of onna-bugeisha. She died during a charge against Imperial Japanese forces. Today during the Aiza Autumn festival, girls wear hakama—the pants worn over kimonos—and white headbands in her honor.

While you’re waiting for The Brazen Shark, be sure to read Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves to get caught up on the story so far!

Father’s Day Reflections

This weekend is Father’s Day in the United States. Several things have converged this year to make me feel especially reflective about fatherhood. My oldest daughter is leaving for college soon. In fact, she’s away for orientation and preregistration during Father’s Day itself. What’s more, I find that several of my peers are of an age that they’re starting to lose their fathers. Unfortunately, I lost my own father many years ago, when I was only thirteen.

Dad-and-David

The photo to the left shows me with my dad. My dad worked for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. He was proud of the locomotives he worked on and that instilled in me a love of machines and a solid work ethic. When vacation time came along, he loved to travel around the United States. That instilled in me pride in my country and a love of the land’s rich history. My dad loved to hike, which instilled in me a love of the outdoors. Although I never really thought of him as a fan, I remember watching my first horror movies with my dad. I knew my dad for less than a decade and a half, but I still see his influence in my work and the things I choose to write about.

I have tried to pay these lessons forward to my daughters. As my oldest heads off to college, she’ll be tested with new freedoms and responsibilities. At some level, so will I, anxiously watching to see how well she’s applied the life lessons she’s received so far, and being an adviser where needed from a distance.

There’s no doubt that losing my dad so early has influenced my writings on themes of immortality and vampires. In that sense, it’s perhaps fitting that the second edition of the flash fiction collection Blood Sampler has just been released. That said, the book, that I think of when I think of my dad is Heirs of the New Earth, where space pirate captain Ellison Firebrandt comes out of retirement to save the Earth that he loves.

One thing that stands out about my dad was that he always wore a tie to work at the railroad. As a kid, I hated ties, but as I’ve grown older and developed a love for Steampunk, I’ve come to enjoy a good tie. As it turns out, I’ve asked my kids for a tie this Father’s Day. If I get one, not only will I have a nice fashion accessory, it will remind me of my dad, whose lessons I treasure and who I miss to this day.