Exploring Space

Today, I’m at TusCon, in Tucson, Arizona where I’m anxiously awaiting the world premier of the film Revenge of Zoe, in which I have a small part. If you’re in Tucson, please drop by the convention and say hello. You can learn more about the event at: http://www.tusconscificon.com

A little over a week ago, I received an email from Bill Nye the Science Guy in his role as CEO of the Planetary Society, an organization I proudly support. The email encouraged members to take a photo with a Planetary Society T-shirt or with a sign included in the email. I was at work at Kitt Peak and I used my laptop to take this selfie which I then tweeted:

I first joined the Planetary Society in 1983, when the organization was only three-years old. It was founded by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman who recognized a tremendous public interest in space. This was about three years after Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking television series Cosmos and the Voyager flyby of Saturn.

The Planetary Society’s newsletter, The Planetary Report, became a great source of information about what was happening in solar system exploration. It helped reinforce my interest in astronomy as I was deciding what kind of career I wanted to pursue. One article I remember in particular talked about the possibility of solar sails. I have a vivid memory of a painting of a heliogyro, a type of solar sail that was not only pushed by sunlight, but spun, so that the centrifugal force could provide simulated gravity for the crew. This sparked my imagination and I started writing a novel called The Solar Sea.

I started my college career in 1984. I didn’t have time to continue my novel at the time, so it waned. Also, on a college student’s budget, I let my membership in the Planetary Society lapse. After college, I did make a couple of attempts to restart the novel, but was never happy with the direction it was going. It wasn’t until 2007 that my publisher challenged me to try my hand at the National Novel Writing Month that I finally sat down and wrote the book.

It’s probably a good thing that I waited to write the novel. In the 24 years from 1983 until 2007, I learned quite a bit more about the solar system. I also learned a lot more about plot and character. I had long ago thrown away the original draft of the novel and wrote the new version from scratch. By that point, the novel couldn’t wait to get out onto the page. I had no problem completing the NaNoWriMo challenge. I spent December and January after NaNoWriMo finishing the novel. My publisher loved it enough to take it and the first edition appeared soon after. The second edition of The Solar Sea was released earlier this year and you can pick it up at: https://www.amazon.com/Solar-Sea-David-Lee-Summers/dp/1885093845/.

I’m sorry to say the Planetary Society itself fell off my radar until 2015. Fortunately, I became aware of a Kickstarter they had started to fund a solar sail experiment. I contributed to Kickstarter and rejoined the Society. I’m glad I did and proud to be part of a group that works to keep space exploration alive and well. The Lightsail 2 craft that was funded by the Kickstarter is now built and installed in a Cubesat awaiting launch. At this point, it’s expected Lightsail 2 will launch in early 2019. You can learn more about the Planetary Society and all of its initiatives, including the development of solar sails by visiting: http://www.planetary.org.

By the way, that amazing painting I mentioned of a real heliogyro solar sail that inspired my dreams of writing a novel is on their website. You can find it at: http://www.planetary.org/explore/projects/lightsail-solar-sailing/story-of-lightsail-part-1.html. The essay also gives you a great overview of the history and science of solar sailing.

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Saying Goodbye to a Website

I have to confess, I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the idea that an author is “a brand.” Part of this is discomfort with the fact that many Americans seem obsessed with celebrities for no other reason than they’re celebrities. I’ve always believed recognition is something that must be earned because of one’s skills and accomplishments. What’s more, given my background in the sciences, judging good writing feels very subjective. Another aspect of my discomfort with author branding is the fact that I write in several different speculative subgenres including horror, science fiction, and steampunk. While I know and respect many authors who change pseudonym with each genre they write, I’ve never felt comfortable doing that. I feel like I’m hiding behind the name of someone I’m not.

I mention all this to explain why I created a website especially for my novel The Solar Sea when it was released nearly ten years ago. I wrote the novel during NaNoWriMo in 2004 and I succeeded in part because the novel captures much of my passion about exploring the solar system and the possible use of solar sailing as a technology. I wrote this as a novel that could be enjoyed by people of all ages and I thought a website that provided some additional background would be fun and would also satisfy my publisher’s desire for me to find new and innovative ways to market the novel.

As it turns out, the web and the way people look for information about novels has evolved since 2008. Few people seem to seek out websites about specific books. Instead, they go to online book retailers, review sites, and yes, author websites and blogs. I have both of those latter items, but I maintained the TheSolarSea.com because, quite simply, the website was promoted in the print and ebook editions of the novel itself and it seemed like bad form to advertise a website that no longer existed.

Earlier this year, Lachesis Publishing returned the publishing rights to The Solar Sea to me. In 2018, I plan to release a new edition of the novel from Hadrosaur Productions. I’ve decided to take this opportunity to retire the website. This is a little sad because the website includes a page about solar sailing, a reader’s guide, and some cool supplemental illustrations by cover artist Laura Givens. Here’s her illustration of the Aristarchus Bridge:

I do plan to move much of this information over to my page about the book: http://www.davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html. In fact, I’ve already copied over my page with information about solar sails. I’ll copy the reader’s guide once the new edition nears completion.

In the meantime, this is a great opportunity to grab the original edition of the novel for only half price. If you’re with me at TusCon this weekend, I have my last copies in the dealer’s room. Otherwise, you can grab a copy at: http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#solarsea. Just a note, I only have three copies left as of this writing.

Roughing It

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been plugging away on the rough draft of my eleventh novel, Owl Riders. The novel will be the fourth in my Clockwork Legion series, which includes Owl Dance, Lightning Wolves, and The Brazen Shark.

I haven’t said much about the new novel as I’m writing it, partly since it’s novel four, it’s tricky to discuss it without giving spoilers for the first three novels. However, what I will say is that I hope this novel closes up some loose ends from the first three novels while possibly serving as the first book of a second trilogy featuring these characters. Whether that last part happens will depend on demand.

Those who follow this blog, know that I’ve also been busy with several other tasks, which have included the release and promotion of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt and the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys, plus, of course, I’ve been shepherding the anthology Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales toward completion. Of course, on top of these are visits to conventions and, oh yeah! I have an actual “day” job operating telescopes!

Ideally, I like to luxuriate in the drafting process. I’m the kind of author who likes to spend time in a scene, really immersing myself in it. I write fast, so in the past I’ve often done things like think about a scene for two or three days, then furiously write four or five thousand words in a sitting. Afterwards, I would go back and reread what I’ve written, making corrections and generally trying to make sure I haven’t left out parts or repeated parts. My hope is that when I’m done with this, I’ll have a rough draft that won’t need all that much work to turn into a published novel. Yeah, right.

My beta readers and my editors always find stuff I missed. It’s partly because of time and partly because of this realization that I’ve been taking more of a NaNoWriMo approach to this novel. For those who don’t know what that is, NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month and the formal event happens in November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month. To do this, you just draft and don’t look back at what you’ve written, just keep plunging forward.

In fact, my novels, The Solar Sea and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order started as NaNoWriMo novels, when I was challenged to participate by my publisher.

The best strategy I found to complete NaNoWriMo was to set myself a daily word count goal and stick to it. That’s essentially what I’ve been doing with Owl Riders. On an ideal day, I wake up, have breakfast, check my mail for important messages, go for a two-mile walk, write 1000 words, have lunch, go for another walk, write another 1000 words, go for a final walk, then get on with the other business of the day. I find that during the walks, I can spend time visualizing the scenes as I prefer, plus it gets me up and moving around, so I can avoid a repeat of the thrombosis scare I had earlier this year.

As I say, this is an ideal routine. Because of the nature of my “day” job operating telescopes from sunset to sunrise, I can’t easily write on those days. Also, if I have a time-critical item on of my other projects, I’ll give myself a break and only require myself to complete 1000 words, rather than 2000 words in a day. As it is, I’m making steady progress. I know I’ll have to go back over the whole thing with a fine tooth comb and make sure the whole book works together. I’m sure there are wordy places I’ll cut and places where I’ll need to add detail, but I’d do that even if I took my time drafting the manuscript.

While waiting around to see how well I succeed, you can read the first three Clockwork Legion novels. All the links above will take you to my pages describing the books which include links to retailers where you can purchase the book. Also, all three of the original Clockwork Legion novels are available in a single budget edition from Kobo and Barnes and Noble.

From Wolves to Sharks

I had a wonderful time at TusCon in Tucson, Arizona last weekend. I was on four good panels where we discussed topics as diverse as the benefits of a day job to your writing, whether the future is knowable or not, and the similarities and differences between monsters and megalomaniacs. Here I am in front of the Hadrosaur Productions table with Pimpzilla. I especially love his cane topped with train.

Pimpzilla

Although the dealer’s room at TusCon never seemed especially crowded, we had good sales. Of particular note, Lightning Wolves was quite popular and we sold out. This is especially welcome since my plan for November had been to focus on the novel’s sequel, The Brazen Shark.

If you would like to know a little more about The Brazen Shark and my writing process, I talk about both in a fun mini-interview with Wendy Rathbone.

Unfortunately, my work schedule at the observatory doesn’t really allow me to participate in the National Novel Writing Month. The nights in November get long, and I can’t guarantee I can write on nights I’m at the observatory. That said, two of my co-workers each offered to work a night for me this month. It’s only two nights, but it’s very welcome and gives me hope that I might get a word count similar to what I would if I were participating in NaNoWriMo.

Weeping-Angel

As it turns out, I’m less concerned about word count than I am having quality time to do research. Much of The Brazen Shark is set in Russia and Japan of the nineteenth century. I have a lot of research to do for this novel. Of course, returning to my weekend at TusCon briefly, perhaps I could turn to my daughter for help. She won the costume contest in the science fiction category for her weeping angel costume from Doctor Who. The Weeping Angels send people back in time. Perhaps she can send me to Sakhalin Island of 1877!