Good Writing Requires Good Reading

I feel like I’ve been reading a lot since this year began. I agreed to moderate a panel at the Tucson Festival of Books in March, which required me to read books by each of the panelists. Soon after that was the voting deadline for SFWA’s Nebula Award and I wanted to read as many of the nominated works as possible before I cast my ballot. This was a great exercise because it introduced me to quite a few good books. The ones below are a sample of those I read for the Festival of Books panel.

The stack there is nothing compared to my Kindle, which feels like it should be bulging at the seams from all the great books I added to it. This has proven to be a great time to do some extra reading, because I’ve been working on my fourth Clockwork Legion novel. It might seem counter-intuitive to be busy reading when I’m also busy writing, but in my mind, the two activities go hand in hand and one is actually essential for the other.

I’m not the only one who says this. In his book On Writing, Stephen King suggests that anyone serious about writing should have a book along so they can read in any spare time available. I was in the audience at a writers event in Tucson some years ago when Ray Bradbury suggested that someone serious about being a writer should read one poem, one essay, and one short story every single day.

It might seem like it’s tempting to steal ideas from writers when you do so much reading. I’ll be a little provocative and suggest that’s exactly the point of reading so much. Okay, yeah, lifting whole passages from another book into yours is plagiarism. Don’t do that! That said, when you’re writing, you might have difficulty finding just the right way to describe a series of events, knowing how much detail to include, or making a character feel really alive. By reading others, you can see how other writers have solved those problems which might suggest solutions to you.

The converse of this is also true. By reading a lot, you see pitfalls other writers have stumbled into and paths you don’t want to go down. In fact, while reading the Nebula-nominated books and stories, I become aware that even the best authors write passages that don’t work for me. It allows me to see that the piece might work in spite of a slight stumble. Sometimes when I think about something that looks like a stumble, I realize “fixing” a minor problem might result in either clunky prose, or might cause the writer to tell an entirely different story than the one they set out to tell. It also reminds me that I don’t have to be a perfectionist. Imperfect books are sold and even get nominated for awards all the time!

At this point, it might be tempting to invoke Sturgeon’s Law, which usually claims “90% of everything is crud.” Often a stronger word than “crud” is used, but that was Ted Sturgeon’s original word and I’ll stick with it. It’s become fashionable in fandom to bandy this “law” about and cynically state that this applies to any set of books or movies you might want to name. Now, I’m here to say that of all my reading in the last three months, hardly any of it was crud. Most was quite good. Some wasn’t quite as much to my taste as others. Some of the stories and books worked better for me than others, but I saw value in all of it.

In fact, it’s important to realize that “Sturgeon’s Law” was not meant to be invoked about absolutely anything. Originally, Theodore Sturgeon referred to it as “Sturgeon’s Revelation” and it was an argument against people using the worst examples of science fiction film and literature to demonstrate the worthlessness of the genre. His point was you can find bad examples from any art form or genre and use that as an excuse to vilify it.

Sturgeon’s Revelation came about because Ted Sturgeon was not only a great science fiction writer, but he was also a science fiction fan who loved to read. He hoped to encourage people to dive in and find the good stuff science fiction and fantasy had to offer. In short, that’s what I’ve been doing and I hope to see it pay dividends in the writing I produce.

Worlds of Words

Last weekend, I was at the Tucson Festival of Books, which brings together authors of every genre imaginable from around the world to talk with readers about their work. The entire University of Arizona mall is taken up with tents occupied by vendors selling books and exhibiting products, services, and information. There was also an area called Science City which focuses on STEM literacy.

I love walking through the festival and seeing the books for sale and meeting the authors exhibiting their wares. Bookmans Entertainment Exchange is a chain of used bookstores in Arizona and one of the sponsors of the festival. They had a large tent and it was especially fun to go in and discover they had a copy of my novel Owl Dance for sale. What’s more, it was sitting on top of a copy of Bridges of Longing by my friend Marsheila Rockwell. As it turns out, I’d just spent time visiting with Marcy and her husband Jeff Mariotte a few minutes before at a tent where they were selling their books.

Fun as it is to visit the vendors, my favorite part of the festival are the tremendous panel presentations. On Saturday morning of the festival I joined J.L. Doty for a panel on Scientists Writing Science Fiction. I discussed how science influences my writing and editing. For example, science brought me together with Steve Howell of NASA Ames Research Center to assemble Kepler’s Cowboys, a collection of stories about planets discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope. I also noted that working in science doesn’t always influence my science fiction. The 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak is a big, spooky building, especially at night and it inspired me to write my horror novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. We also discussed bringing the discipline we learned in science to our writing. In that context, Jim mentioned how he writes without an outline. On the other hand, I do use outlines. In both cases, we think carefully about what we’ve written and plan our next writing sessions so we do any required research ahead of time.

I also moderated a terrific panel on building fantasy worlds. The panel included my friend Gini Koch. I was also delighted to meet Samantha Shannon, Erika Lewis, and Brian McClellan. We discussed the process they go through when creating their alternate worlds and how they keep track of the places within those worlds so they’re believable to the readers. I thought it was especially interesting to hear that Samantha was a fan of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, because I saw some influences in The Mime Order. That said, she noted that she’d actually removed some of the more overt influences because she didn’t feel they were working in the context of her work. The photo above was taken after the panel was finished and we gathered to sign books.

By itself, a terrific weekend at the Tucson Festival of Books would have done a great job of recharging my batteries so I could continue work on my fourth Clockwork Legion novel Owl Riders. However, just a couple of days after the festival, I was delighted to find a new review of book two of the series, Lightning Wolves posted at Geek-o-Rama. Reviewer Katrina Roets wrote, “Do you want to know how you know that you’re really enjoying a book? It’s when the power goes out and you curl up on the couch with a flashlight so that you can keep reading. Seriously. This happened to me last night.” Knowing that I wrote fiction that kept a reviewer reading through a power outage gives me a great, warm fuzzy feeling and makes me ready to write even more.

Read an Ebook Week

Smashwords’ ninth annual Read an Ebook Week promotion is underway and Hadrosaur Productions is proud to participate. We’re offering the following titles at a 50% discount. This includes our brand new collection of short stories about planets discovered by the Kepler space telescope: Kepler’s Cowboys. To take advantage of the discount, simply go to the link, add the book to your cart and use the discount code RAE50 on checkout.


Kepler’s Cowboys

keplers-cowboys-display

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has discovered thousands of new planets.

Visiting, much less settling, those worlds will provide innumerable challenges.

The men and women who make the journey will be those who don’t fear the odds.

They’ll be Kepler’s Cowboys.

Saddle up and take an unforgettable journey to distant star systems. Meet new life forms—some willing to be your friend and others who will see you as the invader. Fight for justice in a lawless frontier. Go on a quest for a few dollars more. David Lee Summers, author of the popular Clockwork Legion novels, and Steve B. Howell, head of the Space Sciences and Astrobiology Division at NASA Ames Research Center, have edited this exciting, fun, and rollicking anthology of fourteen stories and five poems by such authors as Patrick Thomas, Jaleta Clegg, L.J. Bonham, and many more!

Kepler’s Cowboys is available at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/698694


A Kepler’s Dozen

HowellSummersKeplersDozen

Of course, if you’re going to explore the Kepler planets, I know you’re going to want to get them all!

A Kepler’s Dozen presents thirteen action-packed, mysterious, and humorous stories all based on real planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission. Edited by and contributing stories are David Lee Summers, editor of Tales of the Talisman Magazine, and Steve B. Howell, project scientist for the Kepler mission. Whether on a prison colony, in a fast escape from the authorities, or encircling a binary star, these exoplanet stories will amuse, frighten, and intrigue you while you share fantasy adventures among Kepler’s real-life planets.

A Kepler’s Dozen is available at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/325583


Revolution of Air and Rust

Air-and-Rust-150

1915. Teddy Roosevelt is building an empire. Only Pancho Villa stands in his way.

The American Expeditionary Force under the command of General “Black Jack” Pershing has invaded Northern Mexico. Pancho Villa leads his revolutionary army in a desperate raid against the American force only to be outflanked. Just as Pershing’s airships prepare to deliver the death blow, Pancho Villa is transported to a parallel Earth where he finds an unexpected ally and the technology that might just turn defeat into victory.

Revolution of Air and Rust is a stand-alone novella set in the Empires of Steam and Rust world created by Robert E. Vardeman and Stephen D. Sullivan. A story filled with military action, espionage and gadgetry that’s sure to satisfy fans of steampunk and alternate history.

Revolution of Air and Rust is available at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/254622


Sugar Time

Sugar Time

Her name is Sugar. Sugar Sweet. But never EVER call her “Sweetie.”

When Sugar’s Uncle Max falls ill and his collaborators disappear, she investigates the old Victorian mansion where he conducted his research. She soon finds the collaborators—or what’s left of them—along with an angry Neanderthal. She also finds her uncle’s research project, a working time machine. Sugar must act quickly to unlock the secret of time travel so she can set things right and protect her uncle’s research.

Sugar Time collects Joy V. Smith’s Sugar Sweet stories into one volume.

Sugar Time is available at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/567992

2017 Tucson Festival of Books

This weekend, I’m at Wild Wild West Con at Old Tucson Studios in Tucson, Arizona. If you’re in the neighborhood, I hope you’ll drop by. This is a great steampunk event in an amazing venue and I’m doing readings, presenting panels, and talking to people all weekend long. Next weekend, on Saturday, March 11, I’ll be at the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona Campus.

TFB-Logo

The event is free, the university mall will be packed with vendors and there will be panels and workshops with authors of all genres. If you’re in Tucson and love books, this event is well worth your time.

Here’s my schedule:

Saturday, March 11

    10-11am – Writing Science Fiction with Real Life Scientists – Integrated Learning Center Room 141. On this panel with me is J.L. Doty. We have expertise in science (telescope engineer and fiber optical engineer) and are making our way in the world of science fiction marketing our books. We discuss how we blend real science with fiction—and also get sales.

    4-5pm – Building Alternate Worlds – Integrated Learning Center Room 150. I’m moderating this panel that discusses how to create worlds where magic is real and gods, ghosts, and ghouls walk among us. The panelists are Gini Koch, Erika Lewis, Brian McClellan, and Samantha Shannon.

There will be an opportunity after each panel for you to buy books and have them signed. I’ve been reading the books by my fellow panelists and I know I’ll be getting books signed! The festival continues on Sunday, March 12. I’m sorry to say, my work schedule won’t permit me to attend the second day, especially since I know there are a lot more great panels and events. If you’re in Tucson next weekend, hope to see you there!

G.O. Clark’s Collection of Robot Poetry

A few days ago, I received a collection of poetry in the mail from long-time Tales of the Talisman contributor, G.O. Clark. built-to-serve-g-o-clark-200x300 It was a copy of his new poetry collection, Built to Serve. In this collection, Clark tackles the subject of robots from many different angles. Of course, robots are no longer just the stuff of science fiction, they’re part of our every day world. I started my astronomy career working with a robotic telescope and over the course of my career, I’ve seen automation make many aspects of astronomical observation more efficient. I’ve long thought about artificial intelligence and my daughter recently took a college course in machine learning, which led to some interesting discussions. What’s more, writers have long used robots as metaphors for low wage workers or even slaves.

Clark’s collection takes a look at robots from both the practical and metaphorical angles. He starts the collection in an almost steampunk alternate reality and imagines robots of the past moving forward into futures of obsolescence, much as humans do in life. As he notes in “The Steam-Powered Robot”:

    Funny thing about the future,
    it never waits for anyone. His mainspring
    driven moment slipped away: old iron
    bones recycled for a newer model.

Clark compares and contrasts the sensations robots might experience to those of humans. He also imagines how humans might themselves go against the spirit of Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics and use robots to hunt down other humans. In a familiar science fiction trope, Clark imagines robots transforming the world into a better place, which doesn’t always go so well for the humans who created them.

C;arl reminds us that many of our first encounters with robots are with toys and he looks at those encounters with both fondness and terror. Some of the robots he introduces us to are toys of the more adult variety, but even they can induce nightmares such as the lady robot in this poem:

    Heading back towards the
    closet, she deftly unzips, then
    steps out of her perfect tan skin and
    hangs it upon a custom hanger.

It’s true Clark covers many familiar robot tropes, but he does it well and often times he gives those tropes fresh twists. Moreover, he looks at humanity through the eyes of robots and helps us understand more about ourselves. This is a collection well worth seeking out. You can find copies at the Alban Lake Store and at Smashwords.

Maximum Velocity Cover Reveal

At CopperCon in 2007, David Boop approached me about editing an anthology of space pirate stories for Flying Pen Press. We called Flying Pen’s owner David Rozansky and I promised to talk to some people and see what kind of interest I could drum up. I found several enthusiastic authors and started collecting stories. David, David and I met over dinner at MileHiCon in Denver about six weeks later. We were joined by Carol Hightshoe and a few other people, and the idea came up that we could turn this space pirate anthology idea into a whole series of anthologies that explored different themes. It was decided Carol would do the second anthology about women exploring space.

space_pirates1 2008 saw the publication of Space Pirates, the first anthology in the Full-Throttle Space Tales series. Space Sirens, edited by Carol Hightshoe, came out in early 2009. Dayton Ward edited the third entry in the series called Space Grunts which presented stories of the military in space. He tells the story of his involvement at The Fog of Ward.

At this point, I returned to edit a second volume in the series. Back at the dinner at MileHiCon, we’d discussed calling it Space Vampires, but we decided to open it to a variety of horror tropes. I received stories about zombies, ghosts, monstrous aliens, and yes, even vampires. SummersSpaceHorrors That book became Space Horrors. Jennifer Brozek edited Space Tramps about vagabonds making their way through the spaceways. Last but not least, Bryan Thomas Schmidt proposed an exciting anthology of space battles in all their forms. I was honored to have stories in every anthology of the series but one. I don’t know whether I would have been selected for Space Grunts because time commitments prevented me from submitting a story. Let that be a lesson for all those who decide not to submit their work. The best way to guarantee not having your story in a book or magazine, is never to submit it!

Unfortunately, in 2013, Flying Pen Press made the decision to stop publishing fiction and the books went out of print and the publication rights to the stories reverted to the individual authors.

It’s a shame to keep good stories from readers who want them, so the five editors started thinking about ways we could bring the books back in some form. In 2015, Jennifer Brozek, Dayton Ward, and I were all in Phoenix for LepreCon and we hatched the idea of assembling a “best of” anthology. Each editor would read the anthology before the one they edited and select their five favorite stories for potential inclusion.

In a moment of wonderful synchronicity, David Boop who helped to launch the series originally, had started working with WordFire Press, owned by bestselling author/editor Kevin J. Anderson. David and Kevin discussed the idea of doing a “best of” anthology from the Full-Throttle Space Tales independently of our plans. David came to me with the idea just as I was working with the editors to select their stories. David encouraged me to make a pitch to Kevin, which I did, and the upshot is that this summer, WordFire Press will be publishing the “best of” collection entitled Maximum Velocity. Credit for the cool title goes to Dayton Ward, by the way. Here’s a first look at the cover:

maximum-velocity-front-cover

And here are the stories you’ll find inside:

    From Space Pirates:

  • “On the Eve of the Last Great Ratings War” by David Boop
  • “Space Pirate Cookies” by C.J. Henderson
  • Earth-Saturn Transit” by W.A. Hoffman

    From Space Sirens:

  • “Outpost 6” by Julia Phillips
  • “Hijacking the Legacy” by David Lee Summers
  • “Rebel Moon” by Carol Hightshoe

    From Space Grunts:

  • “Price of Command” by Irene Radford and Bob Brown
  • “Finders Keepers” by Scott Pearson
  • “Granny’s Grunts” by Alan L. Lickiss

    From Space Horrors:

  • “Last Man Standing” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
  • “Into the Abyss” by Dayton Ward
  • “Listening” by Anna Paradox

    From Space Tramps:

  • “Backup” by Ivan Ewert
  • “The Frigate Lieutenant’s Woman” by Erik Scott de Bie
  • “Oh Give Me Land, Lots of Land, Under Starry Skies Above” by Shannon Page and Mark J. Ferrari

    From Space Battles:

  • “The Thirteens” by Gene Mederos
  • “The Joystick War” by Jean Johnson
  • “Guard Dog” by Mike Resnick and Brad R. Torgersen

It’s been tremendous fun to revisit these stories of swashbuckling pirates, talented women, soldiers, and vagabonds facing situations both terrifying and thrilling. WordFire currently expects the anthology will be available in June and I hope to have copies at Westercon in July. So, buckle up, because this summer we’ll be going to Maximum Velocity!

Kepler’s Cowboys Available for Pre-order

I’m pleased to announce that the latest anthology from Hadrosaur Productions, Kepler’s Cowboys is now available for pre-order. Ebook copies will be delivered on March 1. The plan is that we will ship the paperbacks by March 1 as well. Here are the details about the book.

keplers-cowboys-display NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has discovered thousands of new planets.
Visiting, much less settling, those worlds will provide innumerable challenges.
The men and women who make the journey will be those who don’t fear the odds.
They’ll be Kepler’s Cowboys.

Saddle up and take an unforgettable journey to distant star systems. Meet new life forms—some willing to be your friend and others who will see you as the invader. Fight for justice in a lawless frontier. Go on a quest for a few dollars more. David Lee Summers, author of the popular Clockwork Legion novels, and Steve B. Howell, head of the Space Sciences and Astrobiology Division at NASA Ames Research Center, have edited this exciting, fun, and rollicking anthology of fourteen stories and five poems by such authors as Patrick Thomas, Jaleta Clegg, Anthony R. Cardno, L.J. Bonham, and many more!

Here are the complete list of stories, poems, and authors you’ll find in the anthology:

  • Introduction by Steve B. Howell and David Lee Summers
  • Step Right Up by Louise Webster
  • Pele’s Gift by Gene Mederos
  • Over the Ridge by Terrie Leigh Relf
  • Chasing May by Anthony R. Cardno
  • Aperture Shudder by Jesse Bosh
  • Voyage to the Water World by Livia Finucci
  • The Silent Giants by Simon Bleaken
  • Calamari Rodeo by David Lee Summers
  • Tears for Terra by J.A. Campbell and Rebecca McFarland
  • Kismet Kate by Neal Wilgus
  • Carbon Copies by David L. Drake
  • Assembler by Doug Williams
  • Twin Suns of the Mushroom Kingdom by Jaleta Clegg
  • Point of View by Lauren McBride
  • A Very Public Hanging by L.J. Bonham
  • The Outlaw from Aran by Vaughn Wright
  • The Misery of Gold by Steve B. Howell
  • Backstabbers and Sidewinders by Patrick Thomas
  • Forsaken by the God-Star by Gary W. Davis
  • About the Authors

I’m really excited about this new collection. When we published A Kepler’s Dozen back in 2013, we were just beginning to comprehend the vast array of planets that exist outside our solar system. Four years later, we’ve unleashed a talented group of authors on this literal sandbox of alien worlds to see where they took us. This collection was a real delight to edit. We explore water worlds, terrestrial worlds, and gas giants. Our “cowboys” range from folks who would be at home in a western movie to machines that learn to think for themselves. We travel to alien worlds and even have an alien from a Kepler world travel to Earth in the 1800s.

You can pre-order ebook copies of Kepler’s Cowboys at Amazon and Smashwords.

You can pre-order the paperback of Kepler’s Cowboys at Hadrosaur Productions for a special discounted price of $12.95 until March 1.