Bubonicon 53

This weekend, I’m excited that Bubonicon will return in person. The convention will be held at the Albuquerque Mariott Uptown from August 26-28. This year’s theme is “After the Plague Years, Plagues and Pandemics in SF/F.” The author guests of honor are are Rae Carson who wrote the Rise of Skywalker novelization and Keith R.A. DeCandido who wrote the Serenity Movie novelization. Keith R.A. DeCandido also wrote All-the-Way House, which is volume 4 of the Systema Paradoxa series. My Breaking the Code is volume 3.The artist guest of honor is Chaz Kemp, who did the covers for the current editions of my Scarlet Order Vampire novels. The toastmaster is A. Lee Martinez, author of Constance Verity Destroys the Universe.

Among the other attendees this year will be Jane Lindskold, George R.R. Martin, S.M. Stirling, Ian Tregillis, Robert E. Vardeman, Walter Jon Williams, and Connie Willis. Hadrosaur Productions will have a table in the Flea Market. Several other familiar faces will be there with great products, including Who Else Books, Ashelon Publishing, and 7000 BC Comics.

I’ll be on the following panels at Bubonicon:

Friday, August 26

4pm – Main Room – Steampunk Versus Alternate History. Science fiction never blinks at incorporating events and icons of history but when it comes to Steampunk, an argument is bubbling in boilers about what makes something “steampunk” and what makes it “alternate history.” Why are authors hesitant to combine history with their fantasy? Where is the line (if any) between “steampunk” and “alternate history”? On the panel with me will be Reese Hogan, Ian Tregillis, and Carrie Vaughn. Chaz Kemp will be moderating.

Saturday, August 27

1pm – Main Room – Why I have Done Young Adult Fiction. Writers discuss why they have done or currently are doing Young Adult novels. What is the appeal? Are there things that can be done in YA fiction that can’t be done in so-called adult novels? How do you approach writing for the YA or Middle School market? Do you have to write the tales differently? How do you avoid talking down to young readers? What makes a tale good for YA as opposed to adult SF/F? What can other genres learn from YA in terms of story, theme, or vision of the future? Why should other writers read YA works? On the panel with me will be Rae Carson, Darynda Jones and Emily Mah. Betsy James will be moderating.

3pm – Cimarron/Las Cruces Room – Snack Writes: Writing Exercises. Josh Gentry will be moderating this panel where he gives three writers a prompt and then 5 minutes to write something. Then the writers read what they have and audience also gets to read their writing. Also on the panel are Robert E. Vardeman and Jane Lindskold.

4:25pm – Main Room – Mass Autographing. The authors of Bubonicon will be on hand to autograph your books.

Sunday, August 28

10am – Main Room – Ray Bradbury: Beyond Green Town and Mars. I’ll be moderating this panel discussing Ray Bradbury’s short stories not under his Green Town or Mars mythology. Why was the platform of a short story so alluring to him and why should readers return to reading them? What were some of his works that are even more relevant today? What was it about his language, his plot timing, and the genius of his work? Is he as lyrical in his stories as the writing in his few true novels? On the panel are Lou J. Berger, Sheila Finch, Wil McCarthy, Patricia Rogers, and Connie Willis.

12:30pm – Main Room – Editing: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Come and hear stories about edits which went above and beyond clarity and reason. Writers discuss different editing styles they’ve encountered, and talk about some of the good and bad experiences they’ve had with editors. (Names will be withheld to protect the innocent!) On the panel with me will be Jane Lindskold, Jim Sorenson, and Sarina Ulibarri. C.C. Finlay will be moderating.

2:30pm – Salons A-D – 50 Minutes with David Lee Summers. I will read a selection or two from my stories including my novella “Breaking the Code.” I’ll also likely discuss a little of what’s new in my astronomy life.


If you’re in Albuquerque this coming weekend, I hope to see you at Bubonicon 53!

The Return of Las Cruces Comic Con

This weekend, Las Cruces Comic Con returns. I’m very excited because this is our hometown convention and I love connecting with people right here in Las Cruces. The last time the convention was held was five years ago in 2017. Unfortunately, I missed that year because I’d already made a commitment to be at another convention that same weekend. In 2018, the City of Las Cruces began renovating the visitor center, which we knew could take a couple of years. Then 2020 happened to further delay things. So, I’m delighted the convention is returning this year and I’m delighted to be able to participate.

Las Cruces Comic Con will be taking place this Saturday and Sunday, August 20 to 21 at the Las Cruces Convention Center. Guest include Aleks Paunovic who has appeared in such shows as Battlestar Galactica and Van Helsing, Joe Station who has been an artist for DC Comics and drew Dick Tracy in syndicated newspaper strips for ten years, and Cris George who has done voice work in such anime series as My Hero Academia, One Piece, and Dragon Ball: Super. You can get more details about the convention at: https://www.lascrucescomiccon.com

I will be sharing a table in the dealer’s room with Tamsin L. Silver. Be sure to drop by and see the amazing selection of books and story collections we have available. We’ll be at Booth 37. Other great vendors at the convention include Zoodoo Dolls, Asylum Comics, and Portillo’s Artisan Jerky.

For those who don’t know Tamsin, she is a writer of Urban Fantasy, YA Urban Fantasy, and Historical Fantasy. Originally from Michigan, Tamsin has lived in the Carolinas (North & South), New York City, and now resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She holds a BA in Theatre and Secondary Education (with a minor in Creative Writing and Shakespeare) from Winthrop University in South Carolina and has taught both middle and high school drama. She’s the author of such books as The Curse of Billy the Kid and Mark of the Necromancer. You can learn more about her at https://tamsinsilver.com. She always has great things to say on panels and it’s awesome to have her discuss her thoughts on writing speculative fiction at Las Cruces Comic Con.

Tamsin and I will also be hosting two writing panels during the convention. Just to note, there is only one panel room at this convention. The schedule is:

Saturday, August 20

4-5pm – Getting to Know the Characters in your Head: Authors Tamsin Silver and David Lee Summers discuss how to breathe life into characters you’re writing no matter how far from your own experience they may be.

Sunday, August 21

1-2pm – I have an idea, now what? Authors David Lee Summers and Tamsin Silver discuss how to develop your cool ideas into really awesome stories or novels.

If you’re in Las Cruces this coming weekend, I hope to see you at Las Cruces Comic Con!

New Captain Scarlet

As a science fiction fan, 2005 stands out for me because it marked the return of Doctor Who. I was a fan of the classic series and watched as many episodes as I could in college and had been grateful when the Albuquerque PBS station began getting new episodes within a year of release. At the 2005 Bubonicon in Albuquerque, they had a special screening and I attended with my daughter and a friend. We were delighted to see our favorite Time Lord back on the screen and portrayed well by Christopher Eccleston.

New Captain Scarlet

What I didn’t know was that another series of a similar vintage would also be resurrected the same year. In all fairness, I wasn’t all that familiar with Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons from 1966. In fact, the only “Supermarionation” show I knew at the time was Thunderbirds. What’s more, Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet didn’t have quite as auspicious a debut in the UK as Doctor Who did. My impression is that many original Captain Scarlet fans wouldn’t learn about the new show until after it first aired. It turns out, New Captain Scarlet originally aired as part of a kids variety show called Ministry of Mayhem. The clips I’ve seen remind me of Nickelodeon or Disney Channel variety shows of the same era.

Like Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was a science fiction series filmed using marionettes as the performers. As with many Gerry Anderson shows, this show featured fantastic ground and air vehicles and even a flying base for the heroes reminiscent of the Hellicarrier from Marvel’s Avengers comics. The heroes belong to an organization called Spectrum which was formed to defend Earth against alien invasion. Spectrum agents have color-themed code names, hence the titular Captain Scarlet. The original series was rather progressive for 1966 in that Spectrum’s executive officer, Lieutenant Green, was a black man and the fighter pilots were all women.

New Captain Scarlet is, essentially, a remake of the original. Instead of using marionettes, the characters are animated with computer graphics. The series opens as Captain Scarlet and his friend, Captain Black, are sent to Mars to investigate some mysterious alien signals. They arrive on the scene and find an empty crater. Then the signals resume and soon the city of the Mysterons appears. A small probe is launched and heads toward the Spectrum vehicle. Fearing an attack, Captain Black fires at the probe. This sets off a chain reaction which destroys the city. A moment later, the city rebuilds itself. Captain Black and Captain Scarlet run away, only to be killed by the Mysterons. Captain Scarlet is resurrected right away as an agent of the Mysterons. Scarlet returns to Earth with Black’s body and Scarlet then attempts to destroy Sky Base and Spectrum. He’s knocked through an energy beam and wakes awhile later. This time, he’s free of Mysteron control, but he’s also virtually indestructible because he exists in a Mysteron-built body. The Mysterons then resurrect Captain Black to lead the assault.

Most episodes feature Spectrum battling some new Mysteron plot. In the new series, Lieutenant Green is not only black, but a woman. We also get some women agents, such as Captain Ocher, who appears in a few episodes. The fighter pilots are still women, though we do have one episode where a man is a candidate. Unfortunately, he falls victim to the Mysterons early in the episode where he appears.

I couldn’t help but think that Spectrum brought on this conflict themselves when Captain Black destroyed the Mysteron city. However, when I rewatched the episode, I realized the probe he destroyed made an awfully big explosion to be a simple probe. It would seem the Mysterons were out to wreak havoc from the beginning.

One of my favorite episodes of the series is set in New Mexico when Captain Ocher must contend with a biker gang called the Grey Skulls. The gang has existed since the 1947 Roswell crash and they believe they exist to fight against alien invasion. It was fun to see Captain Ocher convince them they’re on the same side and the Mysterons are the new threat. It was also fun to see the animators portray saguaro cacti growing around Roswell! That slight inaccuracy noted, the CG animation in the series did improve over the series’ run.

As you might imagine, New Captain Scarlet has a somewhat dark tone. It’s hard to imagine it fitting in well with the silly Ministry of Mayhem format, which involved the hosts getting involved in pie fights and being placed in dunking tanks. I also suspect that few fans of the original would have known to seek out the remake in such a variety show. Fortunately, New Captain Scarlet is much easier to find today. It’s available on a multi-region Blu-ray disk from the Gerry Anderson store at https://shop.gerryanderson.com/products/new-captain-scarlet-blu-ray-the-complete-series

Speaking of remakes, be sure to tune in on Tuesday, when I will unveil the revised edition of Heirs of the New Earth. This is the final thrill-and-surprise-packed final novel in my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. Laura Givens has delivered an outstanding cover and I’ll be showing it off then and letting you know how you can get a copy for yourself.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – BREAKING THE CODE — eSpec Books

My novella, Breaking the Code, will be released in ten days. I thought this would be a good time to share another post from my publisher, NeoParadoxa, which is an imprint of eSpec Books. In this post, you can read Chapter One in it’s entirety absolutely free. I hope it hooks you enough to want to read the whole thing!

As it turns out, I pitched this novella while taking my youngest child to college. In a normal year, I would have been exploring places around the beautiful city of Flagstaff, Arizona and may even have paid a visit to Lowell Observatory, which is one of my favorite places in the area. Lowell had been closed due to the pandemic and when I wasn’t moving boxes into a dorm room, I was largely sitting in a motel room maintaining a careful social distance from others. I found myself thinking back to my own early college days when I first moved to New Mexico and friends from those days. I thought about stories they told me about one of New Mexico’s very own mysterious creatures, the skinwalker. As I looked through the history of the part of the state where most skinwalker sightings occur, I realized there was a very interesting story to tell. My story is fiction, but it takes inspiration from real events.

You can find all the places to order the book at my website: http://davidleesummers.com/Breaking-the-Code.html

With that, I invite you to step over to eSpec’s blog so you can read the first chapter of my novella.


We have another Systema Paradoxa title for you, Breaking the Code by David Lee Summers, a part of the Systema Paradoxa series created in conjunction with Cryptid Crate. It releases May 21, but you can pre-order it now via the link. Chapter One Friday, February 20, 1942 Cheryl Davis parked her Ford Coup in the […]

eSPEC EXCERPTS – BREAKING THE CODE — eSpec Books

Magic, Science, and Vampires

The first time I remember hearing about nanotechnology or nanites was in 1989 in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Evolution.” At the time, I was in graduate school at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology working on a way to use an automated telescope to search for dwarf novae. In the episode, nanites were presented as tiny, self-replicating robots used to repair damaged human cells. It was an interesting idea, but one that seemed very science fictional even to me who was working in the field of robotics. My office at the time was on the fourth floor of a building called Workman Center, which I show below. This was actually the tallest building in Socorro, New Mexico at the time. I had this office by virtue of needing access to microwave transmitters and receivers on the tower that communicated with our automated telescope.

Workman Center as it appeared in the 1980s.

Over the next few years, I encountered nanites in other science fictional venues. One was the fine novel Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams where aristocrats use nanites to build their dreams. Another was Mystery Science Theater 3000 where they’re deliberately presented as a deus ex machina. In all cases, nanites seemed like a concept representing Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.”

I first began to understand the real scientific basis behind nanotechnology in the early 2000s when I learned that nanites would likely not be literal robots, but as self-replicating chemicals that could carry instructions like DNA. The idea was exciting and I could definitely see how such chemicals could have the medical applications imagined in Star Trek in the 1980s. I could also see how such chemicals might be tailored to attack certain metals and armor. This gave me the idea that they might start being used in weapons research. As it turns out, New Mexico Tech is the home of an explosives research laboratory which has been featured several times in the Mythbusters TV series.

Vampires of the Scarlet Order

Back when I worked in Workman Tower on that robotic telescope, my graduate advisor was a scientist working at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He got his start there in the 1950s, working on the H-bomb project under Edward Teller. Another professor had been a graduate student of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who ran the Manhattan Project. Of course, I was familiar with Oppenheimer’s famous paraphrase of the Bhagavad-Gita where he said, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Taking all these ideas and putting them together led me to create the physicist Jane Heckman from Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Oppenheimer’s quote brought to mind the history of New Mexico and the little town of Socorro where I lived. Socorro was one of the first places Spanish settlers established a mission when they came into the land that would be the modern United States. I couldn’t help but wonder what if one of those conquistadors who came with the missionaries still lived in the area. If he was a vampire, he would be the embodiment of the phrase, “I am become death.” Jane meeting the vampire Rudolfo became a way for a modern physicist to confront the idea of the death she created by making weapons. By the time I wrote all this, the Workman Center I had an office in had been torn down and rebuilt. Here’s what the new version looks like:

Workman Center Today

This is the building as I describe it in the novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Throughout the novel, I continue to explore the idea of science so advanced it begins to look like magic. Jane working with nanites for simple destructive reasons becomes a way to make it seem more likely that someone might use nanites to reprogram cells in human beings. While I can see some wondrous potential in that idea, I can also see the potential for things to go horrifyingly wrong.

You can learn more about Vampires of the Scarlet Order at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

Rhythms and Transitions in Life

This pandemic year of 2020 brought us a long, hot, dry summer in Southern New Mexico. Usually we get some relief when the monsoon rains come in July and August, but this year, the monsoon only made a few fleeting attempts at getting started. During the long, hot summer, I fell into a regular daily rhythm. I woke up in the morning, ate breakfast and checked my email, then took a three-mile walk through the neighborhood where I plotted out my goals for the day before the temperatures climbed back over 100 degrees. I would then come home and set to work. I usually wrapped up in the late afternoon when dinnertime rolled around. Dinnertime was generally enforced by my daughter who had just graduated from high school.

All in all, this has been a healthy life rhythm. I’ve been getting regular sleep and exercise and I’ve been making a real effort to make healthy diet choices. This has paid off for me. According to the scale at home, I’ve dropped fifteen pounds this summer.

The campus observatory at Northern Arizona University

As the summer comes to an end, I find myself going through several transitions. My daughter has moved away to college. So far, her school, Northern Arizona University, has done admirably well at keeping any COVID-19 outbreaks from occurring on campus, so it looks like she’ll be away until winter break, which begins this year starting on Thanksgiving weekend. A cold front moved through, breaking the streak of hot weather. The forecast indicates temperatures will heat up again, but right now, we’re looking at 80s and not 100s. Also, I’m writing a new longer work, plus starting edits on another novel. What’s more, there’s word that Kitt Peak National Observatory plans to transition to having more staff on site as soon as local authorities give approval, so I’m on alert that I may begin shifts at the observatory again soon.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I often do my best writing first thing in the morning before I’ve had any significant interaction with other people. In short, the story flows without the clutter of other life business getting in the way. If I wake up, have breakfast, then sit down and write about 500 words, I have a much higher chance of continuing writing later in the day. Even if I don’t, I at least have the satisfaction that I completed that much. Once that’s done, I then check my mail. From there, I usually get at least one work task done and then go for my walk. All in all, it’s still a healthy rhythm, but one that may shift if I do indeed add observatory shifts into the rhythm.

These thoughts about life rhythms and transitions at a time I’m starting new writing and editing projects also has me thinking about rhythms and transitions in storytelling. I’ll dive into that subject in Tuesday’s blog post. In the meantime, remember that you can learn about my books by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com

Vampires of the Scarlet Order’s Fifteenth Anniversary

Vampires of the Scarlet Order

Over the past year, I’ve been so focused on the silver anniversary of my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, that I almost forgot that another novel of mine also celebrates a milestone this year. With fifteen years in print, Vampires of the Scarlet Order celebrates its crystal anniversary, which seems appropriate given a scene in the novel where the vampire Rudolfo is transported to a parallel universe and encounters a world of crystal palaces.

Vampires of the Scarlet Order got its start in my Las Cruces, New Mexico home in the spring of 2000. I was talking to my friend Janni Lee Simner about writing. As the conversation progressed, the subject of vampires came up and Janni said, “I wonder what vampires would make of Las Cruces, being the city of crosses and all.” We knocked a few possibilities around and finally she said that if a story idea came to mind, I was welcome to it. She had no plans to write a vampire story. A few days later, I drove to work at Apache Point Observatory and had the idea of a vampire telescope operator who moves to Las Cruces to work at a small observatory. I wrote up the story and called it “Vampire in the City of Crosses.” In 2001, I sold it to Margaret L. Carter, editor of The Vampire’s Crypt.

Over the next two years, I wrote six more stories set in the same vampire world. “Vampires in the World of Dreams” and “The Weeping Woman” both appeared The Vampire’s Crypt. “Pat, Marcella, and the Kid” and “The Scarlet Order” both ran in Night to Dawn magazine. “The Last Conquistador” ran in Parchment Symbols magazine and “Bat Flight South of Roswell” was published as a stand-alone chapbook from Anxiety Publications. These stories became the core of Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

Issues of The Vampire's Crypt featuring stories from Vampires of the Scarlet Order
The Vampire’s Crypt

Over the next year, I updated the stories, figured out how they tied together and then assembled them into the novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The novel as assembled in 2005 tells the story of how a band of vampire mercenaries working for the Spanish Inquisition went their separate ways only to be reunited in the early twentieth century when the government figures out a way to build vampire-like super-soldiers who threaten world security and peace.

Earlier this year, my contract for Vampires of the Scarlet Order reached the end of its term with Lachesis Publishing and they returned the publishing rights to me. So, I set out to reedit and revise the novel. Even though I didn’t stop to think about this being an anniversary year, the novel is getting a special anniversary release with a brand new cover. Unlike The Pirates of Sufiro, I did not heavily revise the actual prose of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. However, given that my first vampire novel was very much a fix-up novel composed of short stories from three narrative arcs, I felt I could present the stories in a more effective order. I’ll discuss that on Saturday and show off the new cover by Chaz Kemp. If you would like a sneak peek at the new edition, and even learn how you can get your hands on an early copy, drop by http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

Perseverance in Space

Last Thursday, I woke up early to watch as NASA’s Mars 2020 mission was launched. The mission includes the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter drone. The mission’s main goal is to look for signs of ancient life on Mars and collect rock samples which may be returned to Earth.

The launch of the Mars 2020 Mission

The rocket launch itself couldn’t have been more perfect. The weather at the Florida launch site was beautiful and the rocket lifted off the pad, flying straight and true. In fact, it lifted off so quickly, I couldn’t snap the screenshot from my computer before it left the pad! The rover is scheduled to arrive at Mars early next year. It incorporates many design elements from the highly successful Curiosity rover. It also incorporates autonomous driving technology, so NASA engineers can give it a course and let it avoid obstacles using onboard computers. In fact, that’s part of the reason for the helicopter drone. The drone can fly over the surface and help Perseverance map its course over the Martian landscape.

The primary mission objective is to look for evidence that life existed at one time on Mars. There are on-board instruments for achieving this, including the SHERLOC spectrometer which can accomplish microscopic imaging and help search for organic compounds. Perseverance will also collect samples which could be returned to Earth by a future Mars mission. As emphasized when I met Dr. Harrison Schmidt last year, nothing allows for detailed analysis like having actual physical samples in a lab. One of the reasons we would like to know whether life ever existed on Mars is that it would give us a better sense for how easy it would be to find life elsewhere. What’s more, there are some theories that life on Earth actually started on Mars and that it came to Earth as the result of an asteroid collision. So, we could gain insight into our own origins.

I watched the launch as part of an event hosted by The Planetary Society and Space For Humanity. The Planetary Society’s CEO, Bill Nye spoke after the launch. One question I see raised when discussing space exploration is, “wouldn’t it be better to spend that money on problems here on Earth?” This seems especially prescient in the middle of a global pandemic. Of course, you physically can’t invest all the funds on Earth into one problem. That would utterly destroy the economy and leave people hungry and destitute. Nye noted, “All the money we spend on space, is spent on Earth.” Investing in space is paying the salaries of the engineers, scientists, and technicians who make this happen. It’s investing in the companies that build the parts for these craft and that money gets reinvested into the economy. What’s more we receive dividends in these investments such as new technologies that do make the world a better place to live. Those technologies may even help to develop and deliver vaccines.

David the Space Cowboy wants to know when it’s time to board!

Space for Humanity is a group who has a vision of giving as diverse a group of people the chance to experience traveling to space. I believe that’s a worthy goal. After all, we need the experience of many people from many backgrounds if we’re going to reach for the stars. One of the places where we may succeed in getting to space in the near future is from Space Port America, just north of where I live in Las Cruces, New Mexico. One of the people who spoke after the launch was George Whitesides, Chief Space Officer for Virgin Galactic, who said their next goal is to accomplish manned flight from the New Mexico spaceport. In the photo above, I’m being a space cowboy, hanging out with one of the Virgin Galactic craft that may actually travel into space from this area. Time to saddle up and move out!

The Stories They Tell

I recently had a chance to see the movie The Kid which was directed by Vincent D’Onofrio and stars stars Ethan Hawke as Pat Garrett and Dane DeHaan as Billy the Kid. The movie is actually focused on a boy, Rio (played by Jake Schur), and his sister, Sara (played by D’Onofrio’s daughter, Leila George) who have an abusive father. One night, the father goes into a rage and starts beating their mother. Unable to stand it any longer, Rio shoots his father, but it’s too late. Rio and Sara’s mother is already gone. What’s more, their uncle (played by Chris Pratt) is as bad or worse than the father and he plans no good for his niece and nephew because of what they did to his brother.

The kids escape their uncle only to take refuge in a shack that Billy the Kid and his associates use as a hideout. Billy and Rio take a liking to each other just as newly minted Sheriff Pat Garrett arrives to take the gang in. There’s a shootout, during which Charlie Bowdre is killed. Pat takes Billy’s gang into custody, then discovers Rio and Sara. They make up a story about meeting their parents in Santa Fe. Pat doesn’t quite believe them, but offers to take them anyway. At this point, the movie essentially follows the historical story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, while Rio tries to decide which of the two to trust with his secret. Later in the film, the stakes are upped when the uncle captures Sara. Then Rio must make a decision about who can be trusted to help rescue his sister.

I first heard this movie was in production soon after watching the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I was curious what other movies Dane DeHaan had been in and when I saw he would be playing Billy the Kid and Ethan Hawke (who had a bit part in Valerian) would be Pat Garrett, I knew I had to see this movie. It struck me that DeHaan had the potential to be a great Billy and he didn’t disappoint. Despite the Valerian connections, the movie almost crosses over more with the recent remake of The Magnificent Seven, in which Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Ethan Hawke all had starring roles. Despite these connections and despite watching for it, the movie managed to come and go from theaters without my notice.

Overall, the movie used historical characters and events the way I try to in my steampunk and weird western stories. They became a way to ground the story in a historical reality and give it a sense of authenticity. For the most part, the history actually seemed quite good. The major events Billy the Kid’s last days played out as I know the story from Pat Garrett’s own book, The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid. I only had two historical quibbles. First, they kept referring to New Mexico as a state. New Mexico wouldn’t become a state until 31 years after Billy’s death. Also, Santa Fe looked too much like a western boom town and not the longtime settlement it was.

The line that resonated most with me was one spoken by Pat Garrett near the end of the film. “It doesn’t matter what’s true. It matters the story they tell when you’re gone.” It echoes why characters like Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett are so fascinating. We have images and we have countless depictions, but we still want to get to know the truth of those characters. Sometimes we find new truths when we see them through the eyes of contemporaries as was imagined in The Kid. I think they did a great job of portraying Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as humans, neither totally good nor bad, but products of their circumstances. Sometimes we find truths when we put these characters into new situations as I do in the Clockwork Legion novels.

You can learn more about the Clockwork Legion novels by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Coco

This past weekend, I finally had the opportunity to watch Disney/Pixar’s film, Coco. It tells the story of a boy who wants to be a musician, but music is banned in his family of practical shoemakers because his great-great grandfather abandoned the family to pursue his own musical dreams. The boy, Miguel, gets transported to the land of the dead on Día de los Muertos and learns the truth about his family history along with ways to bring the power of music back to his family. I was warned that it was an emotionally affecting tale. I teared up anyway. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.

Día de los Muertos has held a special place in my heart for a long time now. Although I’m ethnically some mix of German and Celt, my family has lived in Nuevo México for more than a century. Día de los Muertos is actively celebrated in Mesilla and Las Cruces—and I live next to a cemetery. Family and their stories have long been important to me as a writer and Día de los Muertos is all about remembering family and their stories.

Listening to the film’s commentary track, it was clear the filmmakers took care to represent the celebration as authentically as possible. This pleased me, but it also gave me something to think about. A week before on the NPR food show, “Milk Street Radio,” a chef talked about the fallacy of creating culturally authentic dishes. The reason he described it as a fallacy is that what foods and cooking appliances are available in a region change and shift with time. What’s more cultures shift as people migrate and as technology changes. The food he cooks in America today is closer to what he grew up with than the food cooked now in his hometown.

Día de los Muertos is very much a part of Southern New Mexico’s culture and the film’s depiction is almost identical to what you’ll see here. Almost is one of the keys. While people celebrate at the cemetery, we also have ofrendas on the Mesilla town square. While you see marigolds like they had in the movie, we see a lot of other flowers as well. We even say “Día de los Muertos” while other people say “Día de Muertos.” Both have been used to describe the celebration going back to the sixteenth century and both are used in the movie. The former is literally “Day of the Dead” while the latter tends to be a more specific reference to All Souls Day.

In recent years, I’ve often seen culture erected like a wall to keep outsiders at bay. I prefer it when culture exists as a bridge to allow others a glimpse into the important aspects of people’s lives. That’s why I liked Coco. That’s also why I set a pivotal scene at a Día de los Muertos celebration in my novel Owl Dance. You can learn more about the novel at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

I’ll wrap up today’s post with a poem I wrote back in 2003 that gives you a glimpse of the importance of Día de los Muertos to my family. Christina Sng published it in her zine Macabre the following spring.

Pan de Muerto

All Soul’s Day—The Day of the Dead—
Picnics and parties at the cemetery.
Gravestones decorated with flowers,
Pinwheels, photos, favorite toys,
Candies and pan de muerto—
The Bread of the Dead.

My daughter and I make the bread.
She beats the eggs—even in death,
There is the memory of new life.
I add the orange essence—memory
Of the orange trees Grandpa—
My dad—loved so much.

Together, my daughter and I add the
flour—grown from the soil where
Grandpa now rests. Together we
Kneed the dough—making a
Connection across time.
Grandfather to father to daughter.

We set the bread out with a photo,
Some Halloween candy, and many
Happy memories. Sleep that night is
Restless. There is a chill in the air.
Morning comes and a chunk is gone
From the Bread of the Dead.