Why Pirates?

During a quiet moment at 2018’s MileHiCon, author Jane Lindskold and I sat down and had a nice conversation. In that conversation she asked why an apparently law-abiding, nice person like me would be interested in writing about pirates. After all, I’ve not only written about space pirates, but I’ve written about airship pirates in my steampunk fiction, and pirates have appeared in my vampire fiction. The drug traffickers in The Astronomer’s Crypt could also be seen as pirates of a sort. I have a two-part answer to the question. One part is related to story potential and the other is more personal.

To summarize the United Nations definition of piracy, it is a criminal act of violence, detention or depredation committed by the crew or passengers of a ship or aircraft directed against another ship or aircraft—or directed against a ship, aircraft, persons or property outside the jurisdiction of a country.  Apply that idea to any vessel that is either in space or operating on a distant world, and you open up tremendous story potential.

In fact, when I first wrote my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, the working title was simply Sufiro. The novel really is about the history of a planet founded by pirates, the disaffected people who follow, and the unscrupulous people who find resources on the world they can exploit. I added “Pirates” to the title because the planet is not only founded by pirates, but those unscrupulous people who come later are committing acts of violence, detention and depredation against their fellows outside the jurisdiction of a country. In a very real way, they are even more piratical than the story’s avowed pirates.

On a more personal level, pirates stir the imagination despite the fact that they steal from others to make a living and often murder to do so. If you look into the history of piracy—particularly during piracy’s “golden age” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—you find that discipline on military and legitimate trading vessels was brutal and crews were paid almost nothing. On pirate ships, the crews had more of a voice in how things were run and the booty was split more evenly.

Today, in the 21st century, we find ourselves in a world where companies monitor our e-mails and website usage. People can be fired for saying the wrong thing in the heat of the moment. In point of fact, the corporate world of today has nothing on the day when you could be flogged to within an inch of your life for a perceived insult. Still, the idea of setting out to sea or the stars with no one watching your every move and not having to watch your every word does have a certain appeal.

In Leiji Matsumoto’s famous Captain Harlock anime series and manga, the titular pirate captain fights under the skull and crossbones flag because it’s a symbol that one should fight to the death for freedom and that one shouldn’t be subject to corrupt and decadent governments. I wrote The Pirates of Sufiro before I got to know Harlock as any more than a cameo character in Galaxy Express 999, but the idea does capture some of what I tried to capture in my novel.

As it turns out, The Pirates of Sufiro was the first novel I ever wrote and I think it’s fair to say the idea was more ambitious than my skills were ready for almost twenty-five years ago. I’ve been spending much of the last year revising The Pirates of Sufiro for a new edition. I think I’ve made it much better, but I’m in the process of taking a good hard look and deciding whether or not I’ve succeeded in making it the book I want it to be. Much of that is making sure the characters are true to themselves as they developed in the books I wrote after Pirates.

You can help me in my quest to make The Pirates of Sufiro the book it should be by joining my Patreon campaign. My fix-up novel Firebrandt’s Legacy may be read in its entirety. Also, you can read the last published edition of The Pirates of Sufiro and the draft as it stands now. It’s likely there will be even one more draft before the book is published. Once it is published, I’ll give download codes for all the novels in the Space Pirates’ Legacy universe that are in print: The Solar Sea, Firebrandt’s Legacy, and The Pirates of Sufiro. Of course, I love to hear feedback from my patrons and it’s a great way to weigh in on what you think of the books. You can become a patron for just $1.00 a month. To learn more, click the button below. It’s time for some piracy!

Peter and Wendy

I suspect I’m like most people in that I am most familiar with the story of Peter Pan as told in the 1953 Disney film. The film is based on a 1904 play of the same name by J.M. Barrie. The play’s author novelized the play as Peter and Wendy in 1911. As it turns out, the first motion picture novelizations appeared around this time. The upshot is that Peter and Wendy is probably one of the most enduring novelizations ever written.

To be honest, Peter Pan is not my favorite Disney film. Peter always seemed like a bit of a jerk and while Hollywood in general was not known for its cultural sensitivity in the 1950s, the song “What Made the Red Man Red” is a low point in racist portrayals of Native Americans. Still, there’s a lot I feel like I ought to like about Peter Pan. It’s the story of kids who don’t want to lose their imagination by growing up, which is a theme that appeals to me a lot as a writer of imaginative fiction. Also, Captain Hook and his crew are among the most iconic pirates in fiction, which should appeal to me as a writer of pirate fiction. Of course, the Disney film does have its good points. I love its portrayal of Tinker Bell and I feel the movie actually improved a bit on Barrie by changing the location of the Neverland from “first to the right and straight on till morning” to “first star to the right and straight on till morning.”

So, I sought out Peter and Wendy. It’s probably no surprise that I liked the book more than the movie, even if the movie was made by Walt Disney. The Native Americans in the book are still stereotypes, but it’s easier to see how they were connected to the Native Americans of the period’s dime novels and would be the ones kids would see in their imaginations. The pirates were wicked and wonderful. Mr. and Mrs. Darling show a lot of love and concern for their children. The biggest surprise, though, was the relationship between Peter Pan and Wendy Darling.

In the novel, Wendy shows affection for Peter, but Peter doesn’t quite understand that affection and doesn’t how to return it. Peter describes himself as “gay and innocent and heartless.” Although I’m no expert on J.M. Barrie, this takes on an interesting added dimension when I read that he was likely asexual. A lot about Peter Pan and his relationship with Wendy feels like the author trying to come to terms with a kind of relationship he didn’t completely understand.

My favorite element of the story is the emphasis on holding onto the imagination and the importance of storytelling. After all, the reason Peter brings Wendy to the Neverland is so she can serve as a storyteller to the Lost Boys. Ultimately, it’s Wendy the storyteller who brings the Lost Boys back from the Neverland to grow to adulthood under the care of her parents. In this way, Peter and Wendy reminds us that we shouldn’t forsake our imaginations and the stories of our youth because they can be a way to help us understand and process the reality around us.

I encourage you to join me on adventures to lands near and far. You’ll likely even find a few pirates along the way. You can learn more about my fiction at http://www.davidleesummers.com.

Meeting Old Friends for the First Time

This weekend, I’m sorry I’m missing Phoenix Comicon, an event I’ve enjoyed attending as an author for the last few years. My schedule at the observatory just didn’t allow it to happen. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to return next year. However, I am grateful my schedule allowed me to attend Balticon 50 in Baltimore, Maryland last weekend. Balticon was special for me because I’d worked with several of the attending authors and editors over the years, but this was the first opportunity I’d had to meet them face to face!

Signing-GanG-0528-Mike

Ostensibly, the reason I went to Balticon was for the release of the anthology Gaslight and Grimm edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine. Indeed, just about the first thing that happened upon my arrival at Balticon was a wonderful, warm welcome from Danielle, promptly followed by instructions to sit down and sign 150 copies of the anthology. Dani’s husband Mike and author Chris Hiles helped by pulling out boxes and handing them to me one by one until we got the job done. It was a fun way to start the convention and made me grateful for my arthritis being in remission!

Pirates-0528-Missy

My first official event was a pirate reading on Saturday night. I joined Jack Campbell, Laura Nicole and Misty Massey to read selections from our pirate stories. I shared the story “Calamari Rodeo” which features Captain Firebrandt and the crew of the Legacy. The story is scheduled to appear in the Hadrosaur Productions anthology Kepler’s Cowboys. Writers can read the guidelines to learn how to submit. Readers can stay up to date about the anthology by following this blog or by signing up for my mailing list. Of course, you can read about Captain Firebrandt’s later adventures in The Pirates of Sufiro, available for free from my publisher. Not only were there fine readings, but there were prizes and even rum! These little touches made for a memorable evening.

The next day, I was on a panel discussing mistakes beginning writers make. On the panel with me were Mike McPhail, Chris Hiles, and Michael Ventralla. Among the mistakes we discussed included being paranoid about editors stealing your idea, falling for writing scams (remember money flows to the writer not from the writer!), and standing out to editors in bad ways. Examples of that last include sending your submission in such a way that it forces the editor to stand in a long post office line to pick it up, sending it on perfumed paper, or emailing it in a format the editor can’t work with.

As I mentioned at the outset, a real thrill of Balticon was getting to meet people I’ve worked with over the years. This includes Danielle Ackley-McPhail who I published in Space Pirates, Space Horrors, and Tales of the Talisman. I also got to meet Christine Norris, whose Talisman of Zandria I edited for LBF Books and Patrick Thomas who appeared in Space Horrors and whose “Dear Cthulhu” column ran in Tales of the Talisman. Patrick also recommended me for the anthology Apocalypse 13. All of these were people I’d only really worked with via email or in internet chat sessions, so it was wonderful to finally meet them in person and not only better cement our business relationship, but now honestly think of them as friends.

GanG-gang-0529

Of course, the reason I was invited to Baltimore was to be on hand for the release of Gaslight and Grimm. Here you see with me with most the authors of eSpec books at the release party. I’m wearing a very nice clockwork dragon scarf my wife knitted for me. The party was great with good food, a raffle for great prizes and good conversation. At the party, I got to meet another Tales of the Talisman contributor, Vonnie Winslow Crist, which was a real treat.

Although I didn’t have any events scheduled on Monday of the convention, I did stay around and spent time in the dealer’s room. I had pleasant conversations with Ian Randal Strock of Fantastic Books, who published Uncle River’s collection The Mogollon News, which features a photograph I took on the cover.

Before I wrap things up, I have to give a shout-out to two friends I knew before attending Balticon. I met Missy Gunnels Katano through my friends Marsheila Rockwell and Gini Koch. Missy graciously met me at the airport and took me to the convention. Nicki Fatherly, who once lived down the hall from me in college, kindly shuttled me around during the convention. They did a lot to make my first Balticon all the more fun by keeping it very stress free.

I hope I’ll get a chance to return to Baltimore before too many more years go by. In the meantime, I look forward to keeping you posted about the ongoing collaborations with many of the fine folks I finally met in person at Balticon.

Balticon 50

This weekend I’m at Balticon 50, which is being held at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. This is especially exciting, since it’s my first convention on the East Coast and I’ll finally get the opportunity to meet several people I’ve corresponded and worked with over the years including Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Christine Norris, and Patrick Thomas. As the name implies, this marks Balticon’s 50th anniversary and the guest of honor is none other than George R.R. Martin. Not only that, many past guests of honor will be attending including Jody Lynn Nye, Kaja and Phil Foglio, John Varley, Larry Niven and more. You can learn more by visiting the Balticon 50 Website.

Here’s my schedule:

Saturday, May 28

8:30-9:50pm – Tortuga Readings – Pride of Baltimore. Authors will present their short stories of the high seas and those daring opportunists that call the ocean blue their home. Costumes are encouraged for a special prize from the authors. I’ll be sharing a reading from my Captain Firebrandt adventures. Reading with me are: Laura Nicole, Alan Spencer, Jack Campbell, and Misty Massey.

Sunday, May 29

9:30-10:20am – Finding Balance (Tentative) – Pride of Baltimore. Do you wear more than one literary hat? Having trouble divvying your time between your editing duties and your need to write? The Pros share their tips on how to do it all. I’ve labeled this as “Tentative” because I’m listed on this panel on one schedule, but not on the other. Since I don’t have any apparent conflicts, I’m planning to at least be in the audience, so it’ll be a place you can find me.

11:00-11:50am – The Biggest Mistakes by Beginning Writers – Parlor 9059. The panel will discuss (from a reader’s point of view) not only writing mistakes but also promotional mistakes: How writers have screwed themselves over and killed their chances of making it in the publishing world after doing easily preventable things! On the panel with me are Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Michael Ventrella, David Wood, and Christine Rake.

G&GRed-Gold Leaf-150

7:00-9:00pm – Gaslight and Grimm Launch Party – MD Salon B. Help us celebrate the launch of Gaslight and Grimm. Kirkus Reviews says, “in this tasty short fiction anthology, the editors have combined two appealing genres into something greater than the sum of its parts.” Most of the contributors to the anthology will be on hand including Jody Lynn Nye, Gail Z. Martin, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Christine Norris, Jean Marie Ward, Jeff Young and more. Come hang out with the authors and editors, eat great food (and my mouth has been watering watching the planned items on Facebook!), and win awesome door prizes, including one of my wife’s hand-crocheted airships!

Just a note, the official convention schedule shows me at an autographing from 1:30pm to 2:20pm on Saturday. Unfortunately, my plane isn’t scheduled to land until 3:05pm That said, when I’m not on a panel, there’s a very good chance you can find me in the dealer’s room at the eSpec Books table. They’re the publishers of Gaslight and Grimm and many of my novels will be available for sale there. I’ll be more than happy to sign for you anytime you see me. Looking forward to making lots of new friends in Baltimore!

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!

Multitasking

This has been a busy week at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I’ve been helping with infrared images of supernovae, taking spectra of galaxies to understand their composition, and taking images of some of the earliest known galaxy clusters. In the meantime, my third steampunk novel is due with Sky Warrior Publishing in about six weeks. So I’ve been reviewing the manuscript so far and making edits here and there as I have time. Here you see me on a typical night, operating the telescope.

Operating Telescope

When moving a telescope from one target to another, there are several jobs that must be accomplished quickly. You must make sure you’re moving the telescope to a position it can reach mechanically. You have to make sure that an off-axis camera is set up to keep the telescope on target. You have to make sure the telescope is in good focus. You must check to make sure the dome and the mirror support systems are working properly. You have to pay attention to see if the visiting scientists are having problems or questions. When I learned how to operate the telescope, the woman who trained me used to hover behind me and say, “Multitask! Multitask!”

Research suggests humans are actually pretty poor at multitasking. Now, if you read the article I linked, they define multitasking as focusing on several things at one time. Instead of being able to multitask well, they say that humans are good at focusing on discrete tasks and shifting their focus from one thing to another very quickly. It’s a subtle but real distinction.

Because I work long hours at the telescope—as long as 16 hours a night in the middle of winter—I’m often asked if I write while I work. In fact, I find it difficult to compose stories while I’m at work because so many things vie for my attention and I have to shift attention quickly. To compose a story or a chapter, I need to be at home away from too many distractions. I’m definitely not the kind of person who can sit in a coffee shop and write.

What I can do at the telescope (when the programs allow it) is read and edit. I’m using something more like the analytical parts of my brain than when I’m composing new material. I can shift my focus quickly from editing tasks to a job at the telescope if I need to.

In order to be a successful writer, you need several related skills. You need to be able to compose a story. You need to be able to evaluate and edit what you’ve written. You need to read good works by others critically. This is all before the economic reality of putting on your marketing hat and telling others about your work.

Write everyday is great advice and I’d argue that a true writer can’t help but follow it. That said, writing is composed of several discrete tasks and I don’t necessarily do every task every day. If you find composing something new everyday is difficult, as I do, why not identify the discrete parts of your writing job and do them when you can? Carry your manuscript with you. As you see in the photo above, I have my laptop with me at work. Pull out a work in progress and go back over it. If nothing else, carry a book with you and read for a while. Instead of “write everyday,” I like to say “do the job of a writer everyday.” Multitask! Multitask!

For those who may have missed it, I was featured author this past week at the Lachesis Publishing blog. Here are the posts:

Harlock, Firebrandt, and Reynolds

During the holidays, while watching Space Battleship Yamato 2199 with my daughter, the subject of another anime icon came up—Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Harlock My daughter found some on-line references to the title character. Although I knew about him and had long ago seen him in the Galaxy Express 999 movie, my knowledge of the show was limited. After returning to college, she discovered that the original 1978 Captain Harlock series is at crunchyroll.com.

In the meantime, I had a deadline approaching for a short story. The idea that I developed seemed perfect for my own space pirate captain, Ellison Firebrandt. I spent a chunk of the last two weeks working on the story. Once I had a draft I liked, I set the story aside, as is standard practice for me before submitting it. During that time, I decided to watch a few episodes of Space Pirate Captain Harlock. The series was created by Leiji Matsumoto, the artist behind the original Space Battleship Yamato. In fact, Harlock was originally created to be a character in Yamato, but Matsumoto decided he didn’t want to give up creative control of the character, so reserved him for other projects.

As it turns out, Harlock and Firebrandt have a lot in common. Both will fight to protect Earth, even if both are often frustrated by what Earth has become. Firebrandt Both are seen as criminals, even though they are each guided by a moral compass. Both value their freedom and the freedom of those who serve under them. Many of the human colonies beyond Earth are wild, untamed places which sometimes have a distinct wild west feel.

This brings me to something else that’s a bit uncanny. While watching the 1978 Space Pirate Captain Harlock, I discovered the sequel/remake series Captain Herlock: The Endless Odyssey. Just to note, the good captain’s name is translated both as Harlock and Herlock, though it seems always to be pronounced like the former. MalReynoldsFirefly Endless Odyssey ran in 2002 and 2003, the same time as another series about space outlaws ran in the United States—Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Captain Malcolm Reynolds shares many noble and not-so-noble characteristics with Firebrandt and Harlock. Earth doesn’t really factor into the Firefly universe, but Reynolds does stand up for what he believes is right even though it routinely puts him on the wrong side of the law. Although he doesn’t call himself a pirate, he isn’t afraid to commit crime to make a living.

Endless Odyssey is a great, short series. I found the English-dubbed version on YouTube. It reminded me of Firefly many times, even down to the lonely guitar riffs. It was also very different, sometimes having an underground comic vibe. At times it even reminded me of the magazine and movie, Heavy Metal.

I gather there is little to no continuity among the different Harlock TV series. Harlock and his pirate crew are almost operatic figures, telling whatever story they need to. In fact, they were even called upon to retell the story of the opera Das Rheingold in Harlock Saga. I haven’t seen this series, but it’s definitely on my to-watch list. I suppose I see Captain Firebrandt, Roberts, Suki, and the crew of the Legacy in much the same way. They are reliable standbys and I can call upon them whenever I need to tell a good yarn. I just have to imagine what trouble they’ve gotten up to now. I do try to maintain some continuity, but especially among the short stories, I can’t promise that I haven’t shuffled it, at least a little.

Seeing that it’s Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but mention the romantic connections with these space pirates. Firefly’s Captain Malcolm Reynolds has his flirtatious relationship with the companion, Inara. Captain Ellison Firebrandt loves Suki Mori, a computer teacher he rescued from the dangerous world Prospero. Captain Harlock seems more aloof, though he clearly shared a bromance of sorts with his dear friend Tochiro. I also find myself wondering if his relationship with his blue-skinned adviser, Miime, is entirely platonic.

Speaking of “bromance” and much as I hate the term to describe a strong friendship between non-lovers, all three of these pirate stories have one of those. I’ve already mentioned the one in the Captain Harlock series. Firebrandt has a bromance with his first mate Roberts and it’s hard to describe Malcolm Reynolds’s relationship with Zoe Washburn as anything other than a bromance, despite their gender difference.

I’ve given you links to explore more about Captain Harlock. Fortunately, Browncoats have helped to assure that Firefly is readily available. If you’d like explore more about Captain Firebrandt, here’s a sampling of books in print where you can read his adventures:

And of course, when my latest Captain Firebrandt story sells, I’ll be sure to tell you about it right here. Happy Valentine’s Day!


Image notes: Captain Harlock image from Space Pirate Captain Herlock: The Endless Odyssey copyright Madhouse, Inc. Nathan Fillion as Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly copyright 20th Century Fox. Each image used under the fair use doctrine of US Copyright law in this article discussing the relevant series. Illustration of Captain Ellison Firebrandt by Laura Givens from the cover of The Pirates of Sufiro by David Lee Summers.