Celebration in Isolation

In my post one week ago, I mentioned that my family was celebrating numerous anniversaries and milestones. It should come as no surprise that these celebrations had to be adjusted in the wake of restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, we did our best to mark the occasions in a suitable fashion.

Before I continue, I note that as I write this, the death toll from COVID-19 approaches 100,000 in the United States. I’m very sorry for those who have lost loved ones at this difficult time. At the same time, I’m grateful to all those who take social distancing guidelines seriously so that we don’t find ourselves in an even worse situation.

Last week, my wife and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Looking it up on line, the thirtieth is the Pearl Anniversary. Because my wife and I are fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, this brought to mind Dr. Pearl Forrester, the evil genius who sent cheesy movies to the Satellite of Love during the show’s SyFy Channel years. With this in mind, my wife and I decided to get each other Mystery Science Theater 3000-themed gifts. We ended up getting the two Netflix seasons of the show along with a 1000-piece puzzle to work on together.

Although it wasn’t technically an anniversary present, the same day as the puzzle and movies arrived in the mail, my wife bought me the code to upgrade my copy of Microsoft Word to the 2019 version. I discovered that the software has a feature that will read the text to you. I’ve long been an advocate for reading your own work aloud when you edit, but this is a nice additional tool. It has already helped me find unintended commas or wrong words in documents I’ve edited. This looks like a nice feature for an author to add to their toolkit and I likely will say more once I gain more experience with it.

Normally we would go out to dinner for our anniversary, and while there are some restaurants opening up with some seating, we decided this wasn’t the time to do that. We grilled steaks for our anniversary and then ordered a to-go meal from one of our favorite restaurants two day later when our daughter graduated from high school.

Las Cruces High School held a “drive-thru” graduation. Parents drove the graduating seniors through the line in cars. My daughter wanted me to drive her through in my Smart Car with its airship pirate logos. A masked and gloved staff member handed out the papers and flowers. I drove the car, so this marked the first time I went through a graduation procession since my own university graduation.

I wrapped up last week with another interview at Las Cruces Community Radio Station 101.5FM KTAL-LP. “All About Books” host Lynn Moorer interviewed me about my novel Firebrandt’s Legacy. Even though this was an in-studio interview, we maintained good social distancing. We sat well over 6-feet apart and she made sure to clean the chair and microphone I used. In the interview, Lynn was especially interested in the jumps ships in my universe use to move faster than the speed of light. My means of faster-than-light travel was an idea I came up with while studying General Relativity in grad school at New Mexico Tech. You may listen to the entire interview at: https://www.lccommunityradio.org/archives/all-about-books-david-lee-summers9615141

You can learn more about the novel, read a sample chapter, and find out where you can obtain a copy of your own at: http://davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html

Radio Interviews

One of the difficult things about the current COVID-19 crisis has been the cancellation or postponing of events all around the country. Last weekend, I had been scheduled to attend El Paso Comic Con. Hopefully, circumstances will allow me to make the rescheduled event in October. These events are vitally important to independent authors and publishers. They’re my opportunity to meet you face to face and talk to you about the books I’ve written and those written by others that I’ve felt passionate enough about to publish.

A little over a week ago, I made a pleasant discovery. Here at the web journal, I’ve promoted interviews I’ve done on Lynn Moorer’s show, “All About Books” at Las Cruces Community Radio Station KTAL-LP 101.5 FM. Thanks to the internet, you didn’t have to be in Las Cruces to hear these shows, you could stream them as they aired. Unfortunately, you did have to listen to them at the time they aired. I have now discovered that Radio Que Tal has archived many of its shows and you can now listen to two of my interviews at your leisure. Lynn asks me about the books and has me give a couple of readings. It may not be quite as good as meeting me face to face at a convention, but it will give you a taste and best of all, you can listen on your schedule!

The older interview featured on line is for my steampunk novel Owl Riders. This novel is the fourth in my Clockwork Legion steampunk series, but it’s set about a decade after the other books in the series, so it stands very much alone. Taking place in 1885 with protagonists Fatemeh and Ramon Morales settled in New Orleans, Ramon, now a U. S. Assistant Attorney, is called upon to settle a dispute between the Chiracahua Apache and the U. S. Army over a sliver of land in southern Arizona.  Healer and pharmacist Fatemeh is kidnapped by Hamid Farzan, a Persian merchant to whom she was originally betrothed.  Fatemeh’s and Ramon’s daughter Alethea uses her intelligence and resourcefulness to help rescue her mother. You can listen to the interview at: http://www.lccommunityradio.org/archives/all-about-books-david-lee-summers

In October, Lynn spoke with me about my science fiction adventure, The Solar Sea, the first in a series, about a solar sail ship, the Aristarchus, which travels to Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, battling hazards in space amidst conflict among crew members.  As the fascinating story develops, readers learn how whales and their songs fit into the universe and into the hierarchy of beings. You can listen to this interview at: http://www.lccommunityradio.org/archives/all-about-books-david-lee-summers-author-of-the-solar-sea

I’ll be visiting with Lynn next month to talk about the next book in this universe, Firebrandt’s Legacy. That interview is scheduled for May 22 at 12:30pm Mountain Daylight Time. Hopefully I’ll be able to share an archive link soon after the interview airs, but you can mark your calendars and listen live at: http://www.lccommunityradio.org/listen.html

Another thing I’m pleased to announce is that my website http://www.davidleesummers.com now lives on a devoted web server. Until about a week ago, I relied on web forwarding from the name registrar to point to my site at the internet service provider. Unfortunately, the forwarding wasn’t very reliable and there were times it just didn’t work, making it look like my website was down. Links to my site throughout the web journal should work much better now.

Holiday Owls

Since today is Christmas Eve, I thought it would be fitting to share a short excerpt from my novel Owl Dance. In this scene, Ramon and Fatemeh find themselves on the run with little money in San Francisco. It’s a simple moment that gets to the heart of the season. Keep reading after the segment to learn about a special event later this week.


Ramon returned to the room he shared with Fatemeh late on Christmas Eve. Fatemeh noticed he wore a new pair of glasses. Like his old pair, they were round and gave his face an owlish appearance. He held his hands behind his back. Fatemeh stood and wrapped her arms around Ramon, but was surprised when he didn’t return the embrace. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.” Ramon’s voice held a sly edge.

“It looks like you were successful in finding new glasses.”

 Ramon smiled.“Yes, these are even better than the old ones.” He shrugged. “The optometrist thinks my eyes have been getting a little worse.”

“That’s too bad.” Fatemeh returned to her chair.

“However, I did have enough money left over to get you something.” He brought his arms out from behind his back. In his hand was a narrow box, about eight inches long. “Merry Christmas!” Just then he pulled the box back. “Do Bahá’ís celebrate Christmas?”

“Not normally,”said Fatemeh, “but as I’ve said, we respect the teachings of Jesus. I’m happy to celebrate his birth with you, Ramon.” She held out her hand and Ramon handed her the box. She opened it and saw a necklace. Adorning it was a hand-carved wooden bead in the shape of an owl.

“I bought the necklace. I carved the owl myself, though.”

“It’s very sweet.” Fatemeh smiled and put the necklace on. She stood and kissed Ramon, but held his hands as they parted. “How is our money doing?”

“I think I can find a job, but it’s not going to pay much,” admitted Ramon. “We could stay here about six more days and I could keep looking, or we could move on.”

“I like the idea of moving on.” Fatemeh returned to her chair. “I really didn’t like the reception we had on our first day and it’s loud here, even late at night.” She looked out the window at a saloon across the street.

“Where would you like to go?”

She pulled out a map and set it on the small table between the room’s two chairs. “What do you know about Los Angeles?”

“It’s a small town. There’s some farms and some industrial work.” Ramon shrugged.

“What does Los Angeles mean?”

“It means ‘belonging to the angels,’ The name’s short for something like town of the queen of angels.”

“Sounds lovely. Can we leave tomorrow?”

Ramon laughed.“Tomorrow’s Christmas. I doubt the trains are even running. What about the next day?”

“That sounds perfect.” Fatemeh put her hand to the new necklace. “I’m afraid I didn’t get you a present. What else do people do on Christmas?”

“We sing songs.” Ramon sat in the empty chair next to Fatemeh.

“Teach me a Christmas song worthy of the angels, Ramon.”


I hope you enjoyed this little snippet of Owl Dance. On Friday this week, Lynn Moorer of KTAL Radio in Las Cruces will interview me about the fourth book of the series, Owl Riders. If you’re in Las Cruces, you can listen from 12:30-1:00pm mountain standard time by tuning in to 101.5 FM on your radio dial. If you aren’t in Las Cruces, or just don’t listen to shows on the radio, you can stream the show at  https://www.lccommunityradio.org/stream.html. I had a great time earlier this year when I spoke to Lynn about The Brazen Shark. Be sure to mark your calendars so you can catch the show live!

Que tal?

This past Friday, I was interviewed live on Las Cruces Community Radio Station, KTAL-LP 101.5FM, by Lynn Moorer for her show “Book Talk.” The station’s call letters were picked deliberately to evoke the Spanish phrase, “Que tal?” which means “What’s happening?” I mention this at the outset not just because it’s fun trivia, but because language ended up being a big theme of the interview. Unfortunately, the interview wasn’t recorded, so I can’t share a link with you, but I can share some highlights from the conversation.

The interview focused on my novel, The Brazen Shark, book three of my Clockwork Legion series. Like all of my series novels, I endeavor to make them stand alone and Lynn indicated she had no problem diving in. She was extremely well organized, with pages of notes and questions, plus her copy of the book had numerous passages marked. She did note that she hasn’t read much science fiction or alternate history. That aspect proved more of a challenge for her, but she clearly followed the book’s story and was captivated by its themes.

In the interview, Lynn asked me to give a broad description of the book. I described it as the story of a honeymoon gone quite wrong in 1877, Ramon and Fatemeh Morales have just been married and their friend, Captain Cisneros has taken them on a vacation to Hawaii. When business calls the captain to Japan, they decide to accompany him rather than staying behind. Once they get to Japan, they find themselves embroiled in a plot by samurai to steal a Russian airship and foment war between Japan and Russia.

It was clear from the interview that Lynn was especially fascinated by the character of Legion. Legion started life as an organic being who uploaded his consciousness into a computer. Over the years, that computer evolved and upgraded itself until it became a swarm of discrete elements that can travel at will through space. In the interview, we discussed how Legion saw humans as younger versions of himself. When we meet Legion in the first novel, Owl Dance, he’s not especially emotional. He embarks on an experiment to unify humanity. By The Brazen Shark, his time among humans has awaken his emotions and he feels a certain tenderness toward us and he realizes that there’s a danger that interference may have harmed us as a species.

Lynn also liked the idea that Legion could understand people’s thoughts and translate them for other people. In effect, Legion acts as a real-time translator, breaking down the barriers between people. As I pointed out in the interview, I see language as a window into culture, so Legion’s observations help the reader understand the disparate cultures in the novel as well as helping the characters understand each other.

Another aspect of the book Lynn highlighted was the role of women in the novel. Imagawa, Ipokash, and Fatemeh all have talents that arguably exceed their closest male counterparts. I did this deliberately when I wrote the novel. The late nineteenth century was a time when women stood up for their rights. It was the era of women’s suffrage and the era of women taking prominent roles in academia. I wanted strong, but believable women to be a hallmark of the novel.

The novel is available locally in Las Cruces at COAS Books on Main Street. It’s also available through Amazon.

Gamera

I think it’s fair to say that I grew up watching a lot of media from Japan. A lot was anime such as Tetsujin 28, Mach Go, Go, Go, and Gatchaman, perhaps better known here in the United States as Gigantor, Speed Racer, and Battle of the Planets respectively. However, I can’t overlook the role of giant monsters, or kaiju. Godzilla is clearly the most famous, but when I was a kid, my hero was Gamera.

I was thrilled to find Blu-ray copies of Gamera’s first eight films a few weeks ago. I’ve slowly been working my way through them. I’ve run into some people who think Gamera is part of the menagerie who battled Godzilla during his ongoing reign as King of Monsters. In fact, Gamera was the property of an altogether different movie studio. Godzilla’s stories were filmed at Toho Studios. Gamera was competitor Daiei’s entry into the kaiju arena.

For those not familiar with Gamera, he’s a giant fire-breathing turtle with tusks awakened from arctic ice during a dogfight between US and Soviet forces. Although he goes on a rampage for energy in the first film, he seems to have a soft spot for humans, and children in particular. In later films of the series, he’s revealed to be something of a guardian for humanity, protecting them from other monsters. The first eight films take place during Japan’s Shōwa period—the reign of Emperor Hirohito.

To be perfectly honest, the first eight Gamera films are far from great cinema. There’s a good reason several of them were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, I’ve long had the sense that the people behind the film series knew their limitations and had fun with them. At one point Gamera defeats a shark monster called Zigra, then plays a couple of bars of his own theme song on its back. Afterwards, he does a little dance. Another great moment comes in Gamera Super Monster when Gamera is ordered to go on a rampage by aliens and knocks over a sandwich board advertising a Godzilla film. Scenes like these make me think the Shōwa Gamera films have more in common with the 1960’s televised Batman than with films like Manos: The Hands of Fate filmed just down the road in El Paso, Texas.

As it turns out, Gamera was reimagined for a trilogy of really good films in the 1990s. These Heisei-era Gamera films gave a solid backstory to the titular turtle. He still attempts to protect mankind as a whole, but he’s still a giant monster and is prone to mass destruction. Not everyone likes Gamera in these films. The Heisei-era Gamera films also presented some cool glimpses into life in many different parts of Japan. I highly recommend Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and its two sequels.

My love of these films is a small part of what makes me the writer I am today. As a kid, I was drawn to the action and good-natured humor of these films. If it weren’t for these films, I probably wouldn’t have sought out more serious Japanese films like those of Akira Kurosawa, which gave me a deeper appreciation of Japanese culture and storytelling. Writing what we know is, among other things, writing what interests us. So watching Gamera films as a kid, was a first step toward writing my novel The Brazen Shark about samurai resisting cultural change in an alternate, steampunk Japan.

If you’d like to learn more about The Brazen Shark and my inspirations for the novel, I’ll be interviewed on the radio this Friday, July 13 on KTAL Community Radio from 12:30 to 1:00pm Mountain Daylight Time. My friends in Las Cruces can listen on the radio on 101.5 FM. For my friends outside the area, you can listen at: https://www.lccommunityradio.org/stream.html

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, the day set aside for remembering those soldiers who gave their life for the country. I was surprised to learn that although Memorial Day has been recognized by the states for a long time, it only became an official Federal holiday during my lifetime. Memorial Day was one of the holidays created by the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which went into effect in 1971. That’s the point that the Memorial Day holiday started being celebrated on the last Monday in May.

The Memorial Day weekend has become traditionally associated with the beginning of the summer season in the United States. This year, my schedule at Kitt Peak worked out that I had to work the entire holiday weekend. Normally, working at the observatory over a holiday weekend isn’t much of a hardship, but this year, my shift started with wild 55 mile per hour winds, too high to open the telescope. Also, I’ve been suffering from a bout of sinus congestion. When we were able to open, the telescope where I was working developed some networking problems, which meant instead of working on cosmic mysteries, I was busy running between a couple of buildings (in the high wind) swapping out parts trying to solve more mundane computer mysteries. Fortunately the weather has improved as the weekend has progressed, and last night we were able to open the Mayall 4-meter to clear skies as shown in the photo.

Of course, I’m not the only person working this Memorial Day weekend. It’s all too easy to forget that many people have to work on weekends to do everything from keeping essential services running to keeping our favorite retail stores open so we can go shopping. In fact, if I weren’t working at the observatory this weekend, I’d likely be at a convention this weekend discussing my books and manning a booth. My next event will be Westercon 70 in Phoenix, Arizona, on the July 4 weekend.

Even though I’m not at a convention this weekend, I still had a unique opportunity to give a presentation about my writing work. I was interviewed by Emily Guerra of KRWG-FM, the NPR affiliate in Las Cruces, New Mexico for the PUENTES: Bridges to the Community segment of the station’s Fronteras news show. You can listen to the interview at their website: http://krwg.org/post/astronomy-steampunk-fiction. I was also pleased to see a review of my novel Owl Dance at the Steampunk Journal website: https://www.steampunkjournal.org/2017/05/24/owl-dance-david-lee-summers-review/#

One of the goals of my Clockwork Legion Steampunk series is to tell a good tale where the protagonists are actively doing their best to find peaceful solutions to the problems they encounter. In a way, I think that speaks to the spirit of a holiday like Memorial Day. After all, what better way to honor those who have fallen protecting us and our freedoms than working toward a world where no one else has to fall in battle.