Vermilion Cliffs

This past week, my friend Charles Corson and I made a road trip to Vermilion Cliffs in Northern Arizona to see a retired co-worker from Kitt Peak named George Will. George operated telescopes until he retired about five years ago. Here I am with George on a hike we took along a ridge that paralleled the Paria River, which feeds into the Colorado River.


The Vermilion Cliffs are just north of the Grand Canyon. I love the area, as I’m sure many who have read Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves can guess. Soon after he retired, George found a place to rent adjoining the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. This is the view outside his window.


Besides going to see George, this was a great opportunity to get out and exercise. I’ve been hearing a lot recently about research that indicates exercise is necessary for healthy brain function. I certainly have found that a daily walk does a lot to make me feel better and more mentally alert. What’s more, I’ve also heard about research that indicates the necessity of getting out in nature. Our brains seem to be wired such that spending time in wild areas helps us out considerably. Here’s a photo Charles took of me walking along a small tributary canyon that feeds into the Grand Canyon.

Dave Exploring

I didn’t really go on this trip with any particular research goals for upcoming works, but I always like to keep an open mind about the history of a region. It’s hard to say what you might see that might be an idea down the road. At the point where the Paria River feeds into the Colorado Rives is Lee’s Ferry. It’s named after John D. Lee, a Mormon who ran the only ferry crossing across the Colorado River. Due to the geography of the region, it’s one of the few places where you can access the river from both banks for hundreds of miles. John D. Lee ran the ferry from 1870 until his execution in 1876, for his involvement in the Mormon Meadows Massacre. The ferry service continued until 1929 when the first bridge was built across the Colorado. Here’s the view of the Lee’s Ferry Crossing.


Not only do I find inspiration from history, but from the land itself. Sometimes on our hikes we would wander through an area and I would think about what kinds of stories I might set there. Is this a place on Earth or on a distant world? At this point, I don’t know, but several places such as the one below are filed away in my subconscious waiting to see what it does with them.


My only problem with a trip like this is that it has to come to an end. However, I did receive some good news on the trip. My editor is nearing the end of her second pass of The Astronomer’s Crypt and the anthology Lost Trails Volume 2: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West is in its final round of production. I hope to have more news about both of these projects soon.

The Ghosts of Stars

This past week at Kitt Peak, we observed so-called planetary nebulae. These are the expanding shells of dust and gas, left over when the cores of old stars collapse. In a very real way, they are the ghosts or corpses of stars. Their material is expanding into the interstellar medium where it will be recycled into new matter. It’s a chilling look at the most likely fate for our own sun.


This nebula pictured is known informally as the Soap Bubble Nebula and was discovered in 2008. This image was taken with the Mayall 4-meter on Kitt Peak using the same system we were using for observations. You can find more information about the Nebula and the observations at the NOAO Image Gallery.

Although this object looks very ethereal and fragile, it’s actually larger than our entire solar system and consists of material hurling away from the stellar core at the center. Also, while this particular planetary nebula is beautiful and round, many are more irregular, their shapes probably influenced by nearby stars and the original star’s magnetic fields and rotation. Planetary nebulae get their names because enough of them are circular that early observers thought they resembled faint, ghostly planets in the telescope.

Planetary nebulae make me think of a beautiful, haunting song by the steampunk band Abney Park called “Beautiful Decline.” The song describes how the works of man eventually get reclaimed and recycled by nature. Of course, nature itself is not static and even stars are not immortal. Yet, even in decline, there is beauty and the promise of new generations of stars. The material will become new planets and even new life.

On the subject of things steampunk and scientific, there will be a special post mid-week as part of the Favorite Heroines Blog Hop. I’ll be discussing one of my favorite kickass heroines from the novel Lightning Wolves. I’ll also be giving away an ebook copy of the novel.

favorite heroines

After you’ve visited my post, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop where bloggers will introduce you to awesome ladies and find out why they’re the best of the best. There will be a giveaway at each stop!

Soap Bubble Nebula Image Credit: T. A. Rector/University of Alaska Anchorage, H. Schweiker/WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF

Resources for Activist Poets

A week ago at WorldCon, I moderated a panel entitled “The Poet as Activist: On Seeing and Saving the Natural World.” This proved to be an interesting topic and we discussed many of the ways a poet or a writer can work in hospitals, schools, or with nature centers to help as educators or to bring awareness of issues to the public. My fellow panelist, Rie Sheridan Rose, assembled an excellent list of resources for people interested in this topic and I wanted to share them here.

The first items on the list are markets that show a particular interest in nature poetry:

The following is more of a market for activist poetry:

Here are some market lists where you can find more poetry markets. Even if a market isn’t searching specifically for “activist” poetry, they may still be interested in the topic of your poem:

Finally, Rie provided a list of discussion guides:

Hope you find this guide useful. If there was something we mentioned on the panel and I neglected to mention it here, feel free to bring it to my attention in comments and I’ll try to add it to the list above. As always, I’m happy to answer questions about the topic.