Owls from the Dark Side

With the first novel in my Clockwork Legion series titled Owl Dance and the fourth, in progress, tentatively titled Owl Riders, you might think I have a fondness for owls, and you would be right. I find them fascinating, elusive creatures. They do an important job, eating vermin. A few years ago, a family of burrowing owls nested in a field near my home. Going by their nests on my daily walks, I developed something of a rapport with them. I would whistle at them and they would whistle back, sometimes doing a little dance going back and forth from one foot to the other. In fact, that’s where the title, Owl Dance came from. The photo below was taken at Wild Wild West Con in Tucson where I’m posing with my daughter and one of the world’s largest owls, a Eurasian Eagle Owl.

David and Myranda

The thing is, owls are not universally regarded as likeable or good. If you look at the photo above, one of the first things you should notice is the size of the owl’s claws. I was very aware when it sat on my arm that that owl was a powerful hunter. When I lived in the small town of Madrid, New Mexico, owls were known to hunt any cats running loose after dark. Sometimes I drive up to work at Kitt Peak National Observatory after dark and see a rather large owl sitting on the road. One time, the owl took off in front of me causing me to slam on the brakes. It was an awesome and terrifying sight.

Many Native American tribes actively dislike owls. They are believed to harbor the spirits of the dead. Hearing an owl hoot at night can be considered an ill omen. The following appears on the official website of the Mescalero Apache: “The owl is a night creature and the Apache people do not have contact with this animal. Avoid having a night owl near you. It is considered a bad omen if an owl hoots near you day or night.” These beliefs have also crossed over into Latino culture where there are stories of owls being associated with witches. In Owl Dance, my character Fatemeh is seen as a witch precisely because of her association with owls.

This brings us to my latest novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. astronomers-crypt-453x680 In Apache lore, there’s a creature known by many names including Big-Owl, Owl Man, or even Owl Monster. He’s something of a bogeyman in Apache stories. Sometimes he’s described as more human like and other times as more monster like. He often appears in the Apache Creation story, such as the version recorded in this post on Noah Nez’s Native Skeptic blog.

When I came upon descriptions of Big Owl, I began to wonder what a real creature that could have aspects of man, owl, and troll would be like. Of course, evidence suggests that birds are the modern dinosaurs. Thinking about the dinosaurs that became owls went a long way to picturing this kind of creature. The protagonist, Mike Teter, has the following vision in the novel’s prologue:

    On the dome floor, next to the telescope, stood a grotesque figure resembling an unholy merging of a predatory dinosaur and some kind of alien creature from a sci-fi movie. Its body crouched atop long talons that looked as though they could easily rip the tiles from the floor. The creature’s nose consisted of two slits above a sharp, beak-like mouth. But it was the eyes that froze Mike in terror. Dark. Mesmerizing. They were like black holes in space. Mike had no idea where the creature had come from or how it managed to get into the dome. But he did know one thing for certain. It wanted to kill him.

To see more of what happens with Big Owl, be sure to pick up a copy of The Astronomer’s Crypt from Amazon, Kobo, or Lachesis Publishing. You can learn more about the Clockwork Legion series by visiting my website.

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.

gail-dru-david

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!

    The “Monsters” of Star Trek

    I remember the first episode of the original Star Trek I watched. I must have been around five or six years old and Captain Kirk was being chased around the desert by the largest, most ferocious green lizard man I had ever seen. Monsters-Star-Trek When the creature first appeared hissing and growling with its strange, segmented eyes, it would have sent me to hide and watch from behind the couch if our couch hadn’t been backed against a wall. Scared as I was, the episode hooked me and even made me feel a little sorry for the green lizard man when Captain Kirk finally beat him. That likely was not only the beginning of my love of Star Trek but my love of monsters as well.

    In 1980, soon after the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a book appeared at my local bookstore called The Monsters of Star Trek. It was a thin book clearly designed to capitalize on the new movie. On the cover was the Gorn—the lizard man from my childhood—so I had to pick it up. The book discussed mind-bending aliens such as the Talosians from the series pilot and Sylvia and Korob from Star Trek’s twisted Halloween episode “Catspaw.” It talked about dangerous animals such as the giant space amoeba and the ape-like Mugato. Browsing through the pages today, it strikes me that the original Star Trek dealt with vampires not just once but twice. In the first season, they met a salt vampire, then in the second, they met a vampire cloud that Kirk obsessively hunted. No doubt this contributed to my own vampire novels.

    Of course many of Star Trek’s monsters prove to be misunderstood aliens or aliens who don’t understand humans. The most recent Star Trek movie, Beyond had an alien that definitely fell into this latter category—a swarm-like race led astray by an outside force. (I won’t say more, lest I give spoilers). I’ve always found swarms a bit scary, since they’re a large force with a single purpose, operating like one organism. For me, the best zombie stories work from this basis. One zombie is a little scary. A bunch of zombies working in concert is really scary! You can find my zombie stories in the anthologies Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie and Zombiefied: Hazardous Materials from Sky Warrior Publishing.

    As it turns out, zombies aren’t my only look at the scary swarm. In Owl Dance, I introduce Legion, a swarm of microscopic computers who decide to help humans evolve in the second half of the nineteenth century causing near disaster. Legion clearly took some inspiration from Star Trek. In fact, one of the chapters in The Monsters of Star Trek is called “Androids, Computers, and Mad Machines.”

    I never really thought of myself as a horror writer or even a horror fan until I started reading Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft as an adult and writing my first vampire stories. That said, it’s interesting to look back and see how scary stories were influencing me even from an early age. Still, it should really be no surprise. I’ve often said my interest in science fiction novels began from paying attention to the writer credits on the original Star Trek. One of those writers was none other than Robert Bloch, a writer mentored by H.P. Lovecraft who would go on to write the novel Psycho. Bloch wrote the Star Trek episodes “Wolf in the Fold” about an evil entity who possessed Scotty and made him a murderer, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” which featured Ted Cassidy from The Addams Family as a decidedly creepy android, and the aforementioned Halloween episode “Catspaw.” If you’re looking for some good creepy TV, you could do worse than hunt up copies of these episodes on video!