Revising the Past and the Future

Today, I’m signing books at COAS Bookstore at 317 North Main Street in Las Cruces, New Mexico from 10am until noon. I’ll have copies of all my recent releases including The Astronomer’s Crypt, Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales, and Kepler’s Cowboys. If you’re in the neighborhood, hope you’ll drop by for a good book. Don’t forget, the holidays are right around the corner and signed books make terrific gifts! The Las Cruces Farmer’s and Craft Market takes place right outside.

This week got off to a good start when my college roommate Ken Silsbee and his wife Melissa came to visit my family for an evening in Mesilla. We went to La Posta, which is something of a landmark in the area. The building was erected in the 1840s and started service as headquarters for a freight and passenger line. After the Civil War, it became a stop on the Butterfield Stage Line and during the 1870s and 1880s, it became the Corn Exchange Hotel, which is briefly mentioned in the first novel of my Clockwork Legion series, Owl Dance. Across the street is the building that housed the courthouse where Billy the Kid was tried. It was good to see Ken again. He’s currently serving as the Alumni Association President for our alma mater, New Mexico Tech, in Socorro, New Mexico.

Most of this week has been devoted to revising book four of the Clockwork Legion series, Owl Riders. I have beta reader notes which are helping to point out some of the book’s remaining rough edges. I’m a fan of good food and I like sharing that in my books, but one of my beta readers pointed out that mealtime comes just a few times too often in the novel. I’m working to cut that back. After all, we don’t want the characters to put on too much weight! Of course, I also love to give my books a sense of historical veracity, but I’ve come to realize that my book is populated with more historical characters than I absolutely need. At least a couple of them are moving off stage to give the stars of the book a little more opportunity to shine. I’m making good progress on the revisions and at this point, I plan to have the book turned into my publisher in the first week of November.

Even with revisions on the novel keeping me busy, I did make time to revise another tale for my collection of space pirate short stories, Firebrandt’s Legacy. This story was “Hot Pursuit” which first appeared in the collection A Kepler’s Dozen. It’s been fun revisiting these stories, putting them in order, and making sure the stories are consistent with each other. It’s also been fun to add in bits and pieces that show more of the characters’ growth with time. As this project goes on, I’ll be adding some new stories to the mix to make it a more complete story arc. As a reminder, you can read the first story at my Patreon site: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. If you support me there, you can see each additional story as its revised or written. Of course, supporting me there also helps to support all my writing endeavors including this blog.

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That Punk, Popeye

About a week and a half ago, I learned that the soundtrack album from the 1980 movie Popeye had been re-released with tracks not included on the original album. I loved this movie when it came out and I bought the soundtrack on vinyl. The movie was one of the few bright spots I remember in the weeks immediately following my father’s death. Listening to the songs over again sent me to my DVD of the movie for a rewatch. As always, I enjoyed this lighthearted Robert Altman romp with its funky island setting and a set crowded with extras who feel like fully realized characters. What struck me this time around were how many steampunk sensibilities appeared in the film.

I’m sure some of the steampunk “feel” of the film is the result of screenwriter Jules Feiffer’s attempt to write a story heavily inspired by E.C. Segar’s original comic strip, Thimble Theatre. The strip, born soon after World War I and very much in the steam era, will celebrate its centennial in 2019. Popeye was introduced as a supporting character ten years after the strip began and soon supplanted most of the regular cast. At the time Popeye was introduced, the strip generally was about the characters going on some zany quest or another in search of riches or to help someone. In the movie, Popeye arrives on a quest to find his lost father—a powerful theme for me at the time. Quests are certainly the narrative basis of a lot of steampunk, though they are by no means exclusive to steampunk.

The first thing that struck me about the film is how much of it is concerned with manners and etiquette. Olive Oyl’s father, Cole, is always asking for an apology for some perceived slight. There’s an early dinner scene where Popeye struggles to be polite among a cacophony of voices and flailing arms and limbs, only to be left with nothing to eat for his trouble. Of course Popeye has always been a defender of the weak and those unable to protect themselves. It’s even in his theme song: “Keep good behavior, that’s your one life saver with Popeye the Sailor Man!”

As I mentioned at the outset, the movie is set in a funky village outside of time. The village, built for the movie, reminds me of Nantucket, except that it’s clinging to rocks of Malta. There are no vehicles except for the rotting ships in the harbor and the tax man’s bicycle. The whole thing feels like it’s set at the time of the original comic, late in the steam era. In fact, there’s even kind of a builder sensibility evident in Poopdeck Pappy’s boat at the end. The whole thing looks like a steamboat cobbled together from odds and ends in someone’s garage. It’s not beautiful, but it might just get a few admiring nods at a seaside steampunk convention because it floats and it works!

The circus is important to many in the steampunk community. After all, it was an important nineteenth century entertainment. Many of the steampunk events I’ve attended have a real love of circus performers. Abney Park even released an album called The Circus at the End of the World. One of the things that’s striking about Popeye is all the circus performers working as extras, showing off their talents in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The whole movie has a very steampunk-feeling circus atmosphere.

I’d be hard pressed to call Popeye a steampunk film, but Robin Williams’ Popeye is a misfit with a good heart who could easily walk into many steampunk stories I know and feel surprisingly right at home. Some steampunk characters would probably look askance at him in his dingy sailor suit and corncob pipe, but he’d scowl and just tell them, “I yam what I yam!”

Legends of the Dragon Cowboys

I’m proud to announce the release of the newest book from Hadrosaur Productions. It’s a book that takes the weird western and adds a touch of steampunk called Legends of the Dragon Cowboys. The book contains the novellas “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung” by David B. Riley and “Chin Song Ping and the Long, Long Night” by Laura Givens. If those names sound familiar, there’s good reason. David is the editor of Science Fiction Trails Magazine and a fine author of weird westerns whose work has appeared in both Hadrosaur Tales and Tales of the Talisman. Laura Givens has designed most of my covers over the years, but is also a great writer as well. In fact one chapter of her story made its debut in Tales of the Talisman David and Laura’s heroes ride boldly out of the Far East to find their way in a mythic land of danger, romance, and adventure.

In “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung” by David B. Riley, a wandering businessman encounters a Mayan god, crooked enterprises and Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, when all he really wants is to open a gun store. Ling Fung is not any ordinary Chinese entrepreneur—he’s highly skilled in Kung Fu and he can shoot good, too. While his heart is set on business, providence seems to have other plans for him.

Laura Givens brings wily acrobat Chin Song Ping to the Wild West in search of adventure and fortune. He finds little fortune, but plenty of adventure. Chin Song Ping is a scoundrel, a gambler and a trouble magnet. His heart of gold lands him in schemes to outwit would-be gods, cannibal ghosts, insane robots, Voodoo despots and the ultimate evil—bureaucrats. But he is a romantic, and the love of his life is the true treasure he seeks. The odds are always against him but if he survives he will become the Western legend he always was in his own mind.

The Wild West just got a lot wilder!

You can find the print edition of Legends of the Dragon Cowboys at Amazon.com and Hadrosaur.com

You can find the ebook edition at Amazon.com and Smashwords.com.

Meet the Cast of The Illusioneer & Other Tales

Today, I’m honored to welcome my friend and fellow steampunk author, Karen J. Carlisle, to the Web Journal where she will tell us about the cast of characters who appear in her book The Illusioneer & Other Tales which is scheduled for release at the end of October/beginning of November. Be sure to read all the way to the end of the post so you can learn how to enter for a chance to win an ebook in this wonderful series.

This series features Viola Stewart who returns for a third set of adventures in The Illusioneer & Other Tales.

Viola needs a holiday. But, even at the beach, or while partying on the grand tour of Europe… there are things afoot. Seeing is believing … or is it?

For more information, sign up for Karen’s newsletter: http://karenjcarlisle.com/sign-up-email-list/

Without further ado, allow me to turn this over to Karen.


When I look back at my favourite books (and TV series and movies for that matter), I realise the (things) that stayed with me were the characters. There’s Samwise Gamgee’s loyalty, Poirot’s punctuality, precise eccentricity and his patent leather shoes and Ariadne Oliver’s fondness for apples. And Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden in his long duster coat—always in trouble—and his beat up blue VW with the patchwork paintjob and unfortunate tendency to short circuit when Harry is around. Blue Moon Rising has Prince Rupert, second son and inconvenient heir sent to slay a dragon—and not expected to return.

I can’t always remember the intricacies of plot, or even the clues by which a mystery was solved. But what I do remember are little things about specific characters and the way they made me feel.

Perhaps that is why many of my stories start with a character—not necessarily the physical likeness, but a feeling, a totem item or a quirk that makes them speak to me. This can be triggered by a phrase, a picture, sometimes a song.

The Lead:

I was dealing with some serious, life-changing decisions when Viola first came to me. I didn’t know it at the time, but she would embody my struggle. She soon bore the scars of my struggle—literally (figuratively, actually and in literature—ha!). I felt I was drowning, fighting to survive everyone’s expectations of me. This feeling seems to have surfaced in Viola’s defiance of the Victorian restrictions on women.

I wanted to hint at the contradictions of the Victorian era—the sexism, the underlying menace of the streets and the wonder of the scientific discoveries of the time. Viola has that wonder and excitement. She has imagination and curiosity. She also notices things others do not (or that others try to ignore).

I now had a hook on Viola’s personality. As I wrote, she was unveiled. She’s in her early thirties, more experienced, self-confident, but not necessarily happy with her lot. She’s a woman out of time; she studied medicine in Edinburgh—one of the universities which allowed women students. (Though women weren’t allowed to register to work as doctors at the time). She married, and was widowed ten years later, allowing her more freedom than an unmarried woman. She currently works as an optician and occasionally assists her good friend and fellow Edinburgh student, Doctor Henry Collins (the local police surgeon).

Viola is independent, an avid reader and loves a good mystery—something that usually leads her into trouble. Her penchant for detectiving was fuelled by Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle (currently an ophthalmologist and studied with Viola and Henry in Edinburgh). Doctor Doyle supplies her with a continuous supply of detective books, which encourages her imagination and search for adventure even more.

I found myself choosing a contemporary books for Viola to read; a new one for each adventure. After Eye of the Beholder I realised each choice of book had been inspired by the actual story in progress, but also shaped the story—often skewing Viola’s thinking, or setting her off on a new direction. For example, in Eye of the Beholder, Viola is reading a copy of The Mummy!—an 1823 novel by Jane C Loudon, who also wrote garden books (and yes that little titbit was also used as part of the plot).

Viola Stewart and Dr. Henry Collins, Art Copyright 2016 Karen J. Carlisle

The Supporting Cast:

Viola has three main partners against crime: Doctor Henry Collins, his friend, Sir Archibald Huntington-Smythe. Even Viola’s maid, Polly, joins in on the fun.

Doctor Henry Collins is unwillingly drawn into Viola’s detectiving adventures. He provides a light-hearted background story arc threading through the entire series. He’s always been attracted to Viola’s spirit and independence. He wants her to be happy. However, he is a product of the nineteenth century; this leads to personal conflict and causes tension between him and Viola. (Well, that’s what stories are all about aren’t they?) Henry must adapt, or lose Viola.

Sir Archibald Huntington-Smythe is a biomechanical surgeon and a physician to Queen Victoria. He is the eccentric-cheeky-uncle type, unhampered by society because of his rank and connections. He has money and easy access to permits to own and use mechanicals in a world where technology is restricted to those with permission, position and wealth. Sir Archibald provides Viola with a glimpse into the world of privilege, and of the potential benefits such scientific advances could afford those who are not so privileged. He respects Viola’s intelligence and treats her as an equal, thus providing both a catalyst and source of conflict throughout the stories.

Polly is the loyal maid, but is more than just a servant. She is a confidant and loyal companion to Viola since they were children. She was the daughter of Viola’s governess, and given a place in the household after Polly’s mother died. Yet Polly is on the other side of the Victorian class divide, in that strange English-limbo: not quite a servant, not quite a friend, and not of equal social standing, but holds Viola’s complete trust and is one of her protectors.

Polly even has her own adventure in the short story, Point of View (in Eye of the Beholder & Other Tales: Journal #2).

The Villains and Antagonists:

My villains evolve in a similar way. Doctor Jack was born a few years ago, when I heard the song “Behind Blue Eyes” (by The Who) on the car radio. The song was perfect for him; he’s surrounded by sadness, and a feeling that the whole world is against him. Yet he is the hero of his own story. Maybe, just maybe, you might feel sorry him? … just for a second?

But not all villains are so obvious in their malice. The Men in Grey are a secret society hell bent on disrupting and, if possible, controlling the Empire. We meet various members of the organisation as they skulk through Viola’s adventures. They are (mostly) the faceless fear, dressed in grey suits, bowlers and gloves, and inspired by the Men in Black, popular in conspiracy theories. Their genesis was in a feeling of uneasiness, conspiracy and subterfuge.
And, not all antagonists are villains either. In ‘From the Depths’, we meet an ambiguous operative, Mr Wood, and discover there is another secret society hiding amongst us (The Victorians loved their secret societies), The Department of Curiosities. Viola never quite knows whose side he is actually on, or what secrets he conceals.

So, these are a few of the main players in The Adventures of Viola Stewart series. The one thing they have in common is something I read years ago and try to instill into every character I now write: each—villain and hero alike—consider themselves the hero in their own story. I’ll leave it up to the reader to judge.


Karen J Carlisle is an imagineer and writer of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition and published her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, in 2015. Her short story, “Hunted”, featured in the Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’.

Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat. She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.

Where to find Karen:
Web: www.karenjcarlisle.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/kjcarlisle
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenJCarlisle/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/KarenJCarlisle
And you can find hints of current research threads on her Pinterest page: https://au.pinterest.com/riverkat42/

I hope we’ve piqued your interest in Karen’s books. I’m a fan of Karen J Carlisle’s Viola Stewart adventures and I’m sure you will be too if you give them a try. For a chance to win one of the books, drop by Karen’s website at www.karenjcarlisle.com and check for the instructions.

Star Trek Revisited

This past week, I started a rewatch of Star Trek: The Next Generation with my youngest daughter. The fact that this rewatch coincides with the show’s thirtieth anniversary and this weekend’s premier of Star Trek: Discovery is mostly coincidental. I suspect the part that isn’t coincidence has to do with all the ads I’ve been seeing for Star Trek: Discovery. They’ve certainly put Star Trek on my mind.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted, I was in my senior year at University. I remembered being glued to the television on Saturday afternoon when each new episode aired on syndicated television. Back in those days, I was so much a fan of the original series that I could quote lines verbatim. I typically could identify the episode within the first minute. In the early days, I didn’t feel The Next Generation was quite as good as the best episodes of the original series, but it was never as bad as the worst episodes, either. Most importantly, it felt like Star Trek.

It would probably come as a surprise to friends who knew me in those days that Star Trek: The Next Generation was the last Star Trek series I watched in its entirety. I have seen and enjoyed episodes of Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, but as I began my astronomy and writing careers, television became less of a priority in my life and I just didn’t make time to follow those series.

One of the things I really like in Star Trek: The Next Generation is the way characters will do everything they can to find a mutually agreeable solution before resorting to violence. In many ways, this approach helped to shape Ramon and Fatemeh in my steampunk novels. Of course, Star Trek gave a lot of lip service to the “prime directive”—the policy of not interfering with cultures more primitive than them. In many ways, my alien traveler character Legion explores the bad, and even some good, that might happen from violating such a directive. Legion sparks off global conflict, but he also opens people’s minds, allowing them to see the benefits of technology and to see other peoples’ perspectives.

One aspect of Star Trek: The Next Generation that particularly struck me this time around was the idea of a “post-atomic horror” in the middle of the twenty-first century. When I first watched the series in the post-Reagan years of the 1980s, that seemed extremely pessimistic. As the years went by, I had reason to hope that the idea would disappear just as much as the original series’ Eugenics Wars of the 1990s did. It’s been very disheartening to see the specter of nuclear conflict raise its ugly head again in the last few months. I sincerely hope that world leaders can find a path to negotiate rather than let this science fictional prediction come to pass.

Before I wrap things up, I’ll turn briefly to Star Trek: Discovery. To be honest, I haven’t decided whether I’m going to watch, at least initially. A lot of what I’ve seen looks good and it looks like a show I would enjoy. I’m particularly encouraged to see that Michelle Yeoh, one of my favorite actresses, is part of the series. The big question for me is whether I want to sign up for CBS All Access to watch. The cost itself isn’t a big problem. More to the point for me is how little I watch television these days. For me, I’d be signing into the network to watch just one show. I may wait for a few episodes to come available, then try the “one-week free” option and then see how I like the show.

Before I go, I did want to share a couple of nice appearances this week at The Curious Adventures of Messrs Smith and Skarry Blog. I was interviewed about multicultural steampunk: https://smithandskarry.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/soup-of-the-day-with-steampunk-author-david-lee-summers/

Also, my novel The Brazen Shark received a very nice review, which you can read at: https://smithandskarry.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/morning-cuppa-the-brazen-shark-steampunk-fiction/

I’ll leave you with the Vulcan wish, “Live Long and Prosper” and its reply, “Peace and Long Life.”

The Solar Sea on Clearance

This past week, I’ve been reading the fine steampunk adventure Arabella on Mars by David D. Levine. It’s a fine novel that won the 2017 Andre Norton Award for best young adult novel. One of this fantasy novel’s conceits is that it imagines an atmosphere in interplanetary space that allows ships to sail between planets in the 1800s.

When I read the novel, I couldn’t help but think that while sailing between the planets without an atmosphere would have been beyond nineteenth century technology, it’s not beyond our current technology. In fact, I wrote a futuristic science fiction novel about such a journey called The Solar Sea. Solar sails don’t work by harnessing wind, or even the so-called solar wind, but they move by light pressure. About three years ago, I wrote a post that goes into some detail about how it works. You can read more here: https://davidleesummers.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/solar-sailing/

In my novel, I imagine a future where humans got as far as building lunar factories, but the will to go farther out into space died. While I know there’s still a strong interest in exploring space, I fear many of the people who control this country’s money don’t see the value in investing real money in all aspects of space exploration. As an example, the Trump administration routinely touts it’s support of space exploration, yet proposed significant cuts to astronomy funding in its initial budget.

I sometimes wonder if it will take a major discovery to give us the impetus to push out into space again as we did in the 1960s and 1970s. In the novel, a technician from the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico discovers powerful particles orbiting Saturn’s moon, Titan, which could be a new energy source. When the discovery is announced, whales around the world changed their songs.

This chain of events encourages the owner of the powerful Quinn Corporation to build a solar sail to find the source of these particles in Titan’s orbit. He gathers the best and brightest team to pilot his craft: Jonathan Jefferson, an aging astronaut known as the last man on Mars; Natalie Freeman, a distinguished Navy captain; Myra Lee, a biologist specializing in whale communication; and John O’Connell, the technician who first discovered the particles. All together they make a grand tour of the solar system and discover not only wonders but dangers beyond their imagination.

Earlier this year, my publisher and I decided to take The Solar Sea out of print. There were several reasons for this. Partly, science and technology have caught up with the novel and I thought I worthwhile to revise it to make it more accurate. Partly the ebook was created ages ago and wasn’t up to the standards of newer ebooks, so I want to address this aspect as well. Once I finish work on my steampunk novel Owl Riders, I will turn my attention to some of my out of print titles.

In the meantime, I have a few copies of the first edition of The Solar Sea left in my stock and I’m even offering them at half off the cover price. You can order copies at http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#solarsea. I would be delighted to sign any copies you buy. Just email me at hadrosaur [at] zianet [dot] com (replacing the info between the brackets with the relevant characters) and let me know that you would like it signed. If you would like them personalized, just tell me so and let me know who to sign the book to.

Revision Hell

This past week, I’ve been reading and revising my rough draft of Owl Riders, getting in shape for beta readers and ultimately getting it ready to submit to my publisher. Despite the post’s title, the process hasn’t been hellish, but it does eat time. Owl Riders is the fourth novel in my Clockwork Legion series and the fun of this process is that I enjoy playing in this world. It’s because I enjoy it that I feel I have a responsibility to tell the story in the best way possible.

I’m a believer that to succeed in writing, you need to sit down and write. As with my other recent novels, I wrote Owl Riders on my weeks off from my observatory job. Typically, I managed two chapters every other week. I didn’t worry too much about getting just the right words the first time through. I wrote from an outline to keep me on track and help me know where I was in the story, but I didn’t worry too much about tracking details. So my job this time around is to assure continuity, make sure I didn’t repeat facts I already conveyed in earlier chapters, and improve the prose so I tell the story in the best way possible.

To do this, I employ a three-prong approach for each chapter. First, I make a pass through the printed manuscript, rereading and making changes. I also make notes of facts I should remember for later chapters. Some of these facts are just matters of maintaining consistency of small details through the novel. Some of these facts are things I’d forgotten I highlighted, but are fun to revisit later in the novel as the characters have grown. I recently acquired a copy of Scrivener, the book writing software from Literature and Latte. It’s been a great help keeping those notes handy so I can check them as needed.

My second pass through each chapter uses a technique highlighted in the book, The 10% Solution by Ken Rand, which I’ve mentioned in other posts. My publisher also recommends following the book’s approach before submission. In short, the book highlights several common overused words (the infamous adverbs, the verb “to be”) and filler words (things like “of,” “about,” and “by”) that are all too easy to drop in your manuscript when you’re writing. The idea is to search for these words and then evaluate the phrase where it occurs and decide if you could find a better way to say it. I tend to catch a lot of this in the first pass, but searching always highlights more of these. The important thing about Ken Rand’s technique is that he doesn’t say you must make changes when you find these things. He just suggests evaluating the sentence and seeing if you can say it better. I usually make several revisions in this pass.

My third pass is to read each chapter aloud. This helps me smooth out prose from the first two passes, helps me to hear where I may have repeated phrases, and I often catch important elements I either cut or never wrote in the first place.

At this point, I’m about halfway through the revision pass. I hope to get more work done during my next break from the observatory. In this fourth novel, the Apaches have built battle wagons and they’ve carved out a land claim in Southern Arizona. Ramon is pulled into the conflict. Meanwhile, the man Fatemeh was once betrothed to in Persia seeks retribution for her decision to run away. If you haven’t already, be sure to read the first three novels in the series. The links below will take you to pages with more information and purchase links. All of the books are available in print and as ebooks. The first two novels are also available from Audible as audio books!