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 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!

San Francisco Airships

Frequent Tales of the Talisman contributor Douglas Empringham recently sent me a newspaper article detailing airships of the nineteenth century from California’s San Francisco Bay Area. You can read the complete text of the article at

The first project the article mentions is one proposed by Rufus Porter in response to the California Gold Rush. Given the challenges of getting to the gold fields, he proposed creating an “Aerial Locomotive” that could carry passengers and cargo from California to New York.

Porter Airship

The image above is from an 1849 pamphlet advertising his idea. As it turns out, Porter actually did complete a 700-foot long prototype of his design, but rowdy visitors tore open the hydrogen bag during a Thanksgiving Day display before it could be launched. The next person in the Bay Area to attempt to develop an airship was publisher and editor Frederick Mariott who built the Aviator Hermes Jr. You can read more about this airship and see some great images at There’s even a poem by Bret Harte written in honor of the airship!

What struck me about Mariott’s design, besides being very steampunk, is that it was propelled by four small alcohol-burning steam engines. These are very close to the kinds of steam engines I imagined for the Russian airships in my Clockwork Legion series. Of course, in reality, the alcohol-burning engines were a bit too heavy and a bit underpowered to be effective propulsion in the prevailing winds around San Francisco. In the Clockwork Legion series, the Russians overcome this largely by having larger gas bags that can lift slightly heavier and more powerful engines.

I hope you’ll take a moment to learn about my two Clockwork Legion steampunk novels Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves. I’m currently working on the third novel in the series, The Brazen Shark. Finally, speaking of Tales of the Talisman, the art director just delivered the autumn issue’s illustrations. I’ll be working on the layout this upcoming issue. Although this upcoming issue doesn’t have a story by Douglas, he will be back in the winter issue.